Higher Education Reflections and Planning for Fall 2020

by Bill Estes, ASLA, Robert Hewitt, FASLA, and Ryan A. Hargrove, ASLA

Prior to the shift to online instruction, University of Kentucky Landscape Architecture students were utilizing a digital platform to create and share work. The image shows a lesson on perspective drawing. / image: Ryan Hargrove

Webinar: Higher Education Reflections and Planning for Fall 2020 (recording now available)
Thursday, July 23, 2020
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. (Eastern)
Hosted by ASLA’s Education & Practice PPN

As COVID-19 cases are surging across several states, many educators are in a state of limbo planning for the coming school year. As an affiliate faculty member and lecturer in the University of Washington’s Department of Landscape Architecture, I too am looking toward the autumn with a mix of uncertainty and optimism. In a recent email from the University describing the planned approach to reopening, it is currently anticipated that some classes will be taught in-person, some taught remotely, and some will be a hybrid of both approaches. In any scenario, I, like many others, am in the process of thinking through my class and how to best serve my students while working within social distancing requirements or remote learning challenges.

To a degree, remote learning is no longer new, and many lessons have been learned through the rapid shift universities were forced into this past spring. While I was not teaching through this transition, I followed it closely with intrigue and I had some experiences as a guest lecturer reviewer throughout the spring quarter. Still, I kept asking myself, how are other instructors adapting and what lessons have they learned in the process that could influence my planning for the fall? There have been several groups within universities and departments that worked together to develop repeatable and effective solutions, and there have been helpful articles in Landscape Architecture Magazine and the “Field Notes on Pandemic Teaching” series in Places Journal.

In addition to these resources, I have spoken to many students and faculty regarding the ups and downs of their experiences. Recently, I spoke with Associate Professor, Ryan Hargrove, PhD, ASLA, from the University of Kentucky, and he shared some interesting and insightful thoughts on his experiences with remote education.

For Ryan and his students, there were a few immediate advantages that enabled the rapid shift to remote learning to happen relatively smoothly. First, he quickly recognizes the importance of having had several months together building the student bond and rapport with the instructors. This was critical in developing the comfort level of students reaching out with questions and concerns, easing student collaboration, and allowing instructors to better understand the ways individual students learn. The second notable advantage was that students in the undergraduate studio began the semester on a digital platform with every student using an Apple iPad and iPencil. Instructors and students began interacting and creating content digitally from the first day of the semester. While these advantages may not have been unique to Ryan’s class, having access to this technology and the skills to use it opened the door for remote collaboration that was not a far stretch from the way they were using the technology during in-person instruction.

Faculty and students utilized Zoom to share their screen and work live throughout the design process. This proved especially helpful when working in plan and section simultaneously. / image: Ryan Hargrove

In collaboration with Assistant Research Professor Travis Klondike, Associate ASLA, North Carolina State University and the Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, Ryan co-authored an article, “In Search of Virtual Connectedness: A Comparative Essay in the Development of New Pedagogies for Remote Learning Environments” to be published in Southern Utah University’s journal Experiential Learning & Teaching in Higher Education. With a focus on the design studio, they note that the rapid shift to remote instruction allowed reflection and opportunities for adaptation of traditional pedagogical approaches. They categorize this in three ways: modeling a sense of order, tightening feedback loops, and developing a digital footprint.

Modeling a Sense of Order

Once the University of Kentucky and Department of Landscape Architecture made the decision to shift to an online format, instructors were required to prepare continuity plans for each class. With a goal of modeling in-class behavior and expectations, plans were developed that outlined how the classes would be conducted, what online platforms would be used, and what assignment modifications would be implemented. Methods included adapting lecture content to fit pre-recorded demonstrations or step-by-step guides and creating a repeatable process for conducting in-class meetings (“virtual desk critiques”).

With the continuity plans in place, a structured online environment was created that allowed for greater efficiencies during class hours. End of semester evaluations identified that 75 percent of respondents had a positive response to the course changes, however, peer-to-peer interaction was greatly diminished and difficult to establish through the tightly controlled format and timing of remote interactions.

Apps such as Morpholio Trace and Procreate served as an online desktop on which problems were discussed and visualized. / image: Abby Phelps, Student ASLA

Tightening Feedback Loops

In conversation, Ryan noted that it takes significantly more time to teach remotely. While the new class formats were rigid, in-class versus out-of-class hours were significantly blurred. Without the structure of in-class and office meetings, schedules became more fluid based on individual needs and preferred working times which likely reduced perceived barriers for student-to-teacher interactions. Though more time was required of students and instructors, it also required more rapid iteration and feedback loops that enhanced the overall quality of work produced from one session to the next.

Developing a Digital Footprint

One of the greatest learning benefits of the remote instruction approach is the digital footprint shared between instructors and students. Prior to classes and meetings, students would share their materials via Google Drive, email, or other digital format so that instructors and reviewers could review materials in advance. During the meetings, instructors could then use tools like iPad Pros with iPencils, the Morpholio Trace app, and BlueBeam to mark up students’ work while engaging in a discussion through Zoom. These sessions were recorded and then uploaded or emailed along with the mark-ups providing students with a multisensory leave behind of the meeting. This process created a timeline of idea development that can be used to track progress and be recalled for future use.

Instructors used the digital tools to pass various iterations of work back and forth to students. / image: Ryan Hargrove

Challenges Faced

While many have been able to adapt in the circumstances we have been dealt, we have not been able to thrive. Opportunities for essential student collaboration, group learning, class and cohort synergies, student competitiveness and support, spontaneous interactions, and casual conversation that lead to in-depth thinking are difficult if not impossible to duplicate in a completely digital environment. Additionally, students may lack necessary resources and feelings of isolation can negatively influence the learning experience. Many students, understandably, have mentioned their dissatisfaction with the situation. Hargrove and Klondike note that 81 percent of end-of-semester survey responses mentioned a desire for more class-wide or group interactions. Hargrove and Klondike state that a critical next step is further developing tools and techniques that address the insular nature of virtual classrooms.

Having a live format allowed instructors and students to not only share but actively participate in critiques. / image: student Asaad Parsons

Moving Forward

As we now look to planning for the coming school year, while many things are uncertain, we certainly know that we will not be back to life as it was in the classroom. As previously noted, last year’s students had the benefit of several months together, and in Associate Professor Hargrove’s case, the benefit of access and skill with technology that enabled a smoother transition. We now have a new group of students entering our programs, most of whom have never met each other, or have a background in the technology that would make certain aspects of remote instruction easier. I see potential benefits of a hybrid model that would allow students to access facilities, resources, and safely interact with one another while larger class sessions could be conducted remotely. I also see the possibility of carrying forward some of the remote structure, such as the pre-recorded demonstrations, that would allow students to follow along at their own pace and then course time can be spent focused on answering questions and going through the nuances of an approach. This is something many instructors were already implementing for courses like digital media, and could be effective for technical/procedural classes, like site grading. There is also a deconstruction of previously perceived barriers, such as guest speakers and reviewers participating remotely which allows for a broad cross section of input and expertise beyond our regional limits.

As an opportunity to reflect on our experiences and look ahead, the Education & Practice PPN will be hosting a panel discussion on July 23, 2020, 3:00-4:30 p.m. (Eastern). Our panelists include:

  • Patsy Eubanks Owens, ASLA, Professor and Associate Dean, UC Davis
  • Ming-Han Li, FASLA, Professor and Director, School of Planning, Design and Construction, Michigan State
  • Mark Hoversten, FASLA, Dean, College of Design, NC State
  • Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas

Panelists will share insights and discuss spring semester challenges and successes while looking ahead to fall 2020. Attendees are invited to participate in a Q&A session following. We are hopeful that this perspective assists in course planning, as well as creating a platform to share ideas about potential impacts and opportunities as we look beyond COVID-19.

Bill Estes, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP, is a Senior landscape Architect at MIG in Seattle and he serves as Affiliate Faculty and Lecturer in the University of Washington’s Department of Landscape Architecture. He currently serves as co-chair of ASLA’s Education and Practice PPN and as a member of the ASLA Honors and Awards Advisory Committee.

Robert Hewitt, FASLA, MLA/MCP, PLA, is a Professor of Landscape Architecture in Clemson University’s School of Architecture with appointments at Huazhong Agricultural University and Ain Shams University. He currently serves as co-chair of ASLA’s Education and Practice PPN and as a member of the ASLA LARE Prep Committee.

Ryan A. Hargrove, PhD, ASLA, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky. His research and teaching interests focus on the intersection of design pedagogy, creative thinking, metacognition, and technology.

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