Sketch of applied plants design

From Oregon to Maine, students in the Introduction to Landscape Architecture and Design class continue to have a hands-on learning experience despite never setting foot in a physical classroom.

HORT230, or Introduction to Landscape Architecture and Design, is a beginner-level class for students studying or exploring a degree in landscape design. In a normal semester, the class consists of informative lectures, excursions to the Thomas E. Ricks Gardens to evaluate outdoor spaces, and lab time to graphically design outdoors spaces. However, due to the innovative thinking of faculty within the department, the class has moved to a remote setting while still providing these valuable learning experiences.

Thanks to video chat platforms, students in the class are able to have synchronous lectures with their professor. Among many things, students are instructed on how to evaluate outdoor spaces. Each student is then tasked with visiting outdoor locations near their homes, recording videos of their evaluations, and sharing them with the rest of the class. Not only has it become an opportunity for students to teach one another, but their different geological locations throughout the country allow for diversified instruction.

Additionally, the idea of evaluating landscapes through virtual platforms led to the idea of taking the class on virtual field trips. This semester, the class will have the opportunity to meet with professional landscaping companies in San Diego and Nashville to go on virtual tours of their current projects. Skyler Westergard, a faculty member in the Department of Applied Plant Science and instructor for HORT230, said he hopes to continue this experience even when students are back in the classroom.

“Why wouldn’t we do this every semester—even if the classroom is back here in the physical classroom?” Westergard asked. “I’m excited about it. The students are excited about it. The companies that are willing to support us in that are excited about hosting students, and it doesn’t cost any money.”

Finally, through the use of several technologies, students are still able to create graphic landscape designs. The instructor uses a document camera to show his hand as he draws, and students use photo-scanning apps to turn in their assignments. Finally, the instructor is able to use additional programs to draw right over their scanned images as if he was leaning over their shoulder correcting in red pen.

“I’m really confident and optimistic that trying times like these actually can be catalysts for innovation because we’re forced to do things differently. And I think there’s some really good things coming out of this,” Westergard said. “At the end of the day, I just want students to love their environment and to see the beauty, and the power, and the importance of physical outdoor space.”