Fostering Collaboration & Innovation
Have you ever read a book so compelling and inspirational it becomes your go-to holiday gift? This past year I shared with many colleagues and loved ones a book I found both captivating and insightful, with the hope that they would not only enjoy the eloquent prose and educational essays, but it would also cause them to reconsider the way they perceive the world outside.
For me, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, has actually achieved a status well beyond that of a holiday gift by becoming the basis for my spring Field Sketching course at the University of Delaware. The course focuses on the power of observation to develop design-thinking habits of mind, and on freehand sketching techniques used to portray objects and landscape subjects. In addition to fine arts-based studio techniques, students have an opportunity to demonstrate their sketching and observational skills each week as they hike to the woods to sit quietly and reflect on the forest details. Insights from The Forest Unseen and instructor prompts will lead the student explorations of their own personal one square meter of space in the nearby White Clay Creek nature preserve.
In Haskell’s book, the area of observation is referred to as a mandala. In their personal mandala, students will sit quietly for 2 hours/week observing and documenting the space. In doing so, they will help me answer the questions: How might extended observation of one place change a student’s awareness, perception, or appreciation of the place? How might doing so change their perception of living and non-living things that periodically occupy the space? How might this translate to more environmentally thoughtful behavior and designs?
I shared the book, and my course concept, with a colleague who is teaching Foundations of Design in the Fine Arts program at UD this spring. He immediately picked up on the mandala concept as something he could embed in his class. Together we developed several aligned projects that we will embark on this semester to allow students to collaborate across disciplines and further explore the topics presented in the book. We intend to set up a Go-Pro camera in our university woodlot so that it snaps a photo at frequent intervals day and night, and will have all the students produce a personal segment of the stop-gap video that lasts 10 seconds long for a total video approaching 7 minutes. Along the way they will learn video editing skills (as will I, since this is my colleague’s, and not my area of expertise!), but more importantly they will choose the narrative that accompanies the footage. My students will have over 20 hours of observational insights to garner inspiration for their narrative.
The design students will also collect small pebbles from the local creek, and use a rock tumbler to make them smooth before turning them into nature beads for a three-dimensional wire mandala project. Student’s in both classes will draw a mandala based on their inspirations, trace it using Adobe Illustrator, and laser cut it in wood to create individual two-dimensional art pieces. During a joint exhibit in the university’s Interdisciplinary Science Building, the mandalas will be on display at the end of the semester, along with the film, the art student’s wire sculptures, and my student’s sketches.
The sharing of ideas, resources, and concepts related to teaching students is the essence of the ASLA Education and Practice Professional Practice Network (E&P PPN). Initial ideas fuel new insights and enriched ideas which lead to projects with clarity, strength, and depth. Rather than share lengthy case studies or exact problems for a PBL activity, it seems more useful in today’s fast-paced culture to simply share ideas as propagules for more ideas. If we and our students could sit in a coffeehouse together discussing the day-to-day work of practitioners and the studio projects, our interactions would fuel the creative energy of a commons that fosters collaboration and innovation in teaching and in practice.
Join the E&P PPN in sharing ideas by letting us know what resources you seek, or the most valuable lesson from your undergraduate days, or the best studio lesson you deliver as an educator. Or, literally join me this semester in an exploration of the woods. Perhaps you have a group of students or a local chapter who would be willing to take the time to reflect on nature while being guided by David Haskell’s insights. If so, we could share outcomes and ideas in a more wide ranging universal exhibit.
by Dr. Jules Bruck, PLA, Co-Chair of the Education & Practice PPN