This post is the second installation covering the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) conference last March.
Where will future generations of landscape architects be trained? Will universities, the brick-and-mortar temples of learning, give way to more fluid forums for teaching in our digital age? What consequences might that have for the profession? This was another topic that stirred up emotions among the CELA attendees.
Caren Yglesias, of UC Berkeley, teaches landscape architecture courses online, and elaborated on the benefits of this approach. First and foremost, the format offers greater flexibility for students that work, have families, or cannot live in proximity to campus. Yglesias stressed that the courses do require continuous engagement in online discussions from both students and teachers, but she also noted how the “delay” between exercises and the required responses allow students more time to process experiences and organize their thoughts – something that benefits especially shy and non-native speakers who may otherwise avoid participation. Similarly, she argued that the absence of physical appearances, gender, age, or other defining features contributes to a more equal platform for communication and learning online.
Flexible schedules, delayed responses, and anonymous interaction. While these characteristics of online courses can make students’ lives easier, it can be questioned how well they prepare them for work in a field that is deadline-driven, fast-paced, and team-oriented. But whether we like it or not (and indeed, Yglesias received much pushback from the audience), there is no doubt that the premise of education is changing. Not only are modes of teaching shifting, but also the ways in which university programs are structured and degrees assigned. An increasing number of universities are offering different kinds of certificates as alternatives for students who don’t have the desire or means to pursue a full MLA, or who wish to build upon studies in other fields towards a career in landscape architecture.
Randy Weatherly, president of CLARB, noted that while this development makes it easier for some people to enter into the profession, it can also create confusion as to what kind of degree or certificate represents what kind of knowledge. Greater variation within landscape architecture education might increase the need for professional assessment, leading to expansions or alterations of the current licensure standards.
Despite the clear divide between digital advocates and defenders of academic traditions at CELA, the future of landscape architecture education can hardly be debated as a matter of either/or. While academic and professional standards need to be maintained, there is no purpose in funneling all aspiring landscape architecture students down an identical educational path. With different routes toward practice, individuals with diverse experiences, skill sets, and perspectives can help increase our profession’s ability to address the complex and cross-disciplinary issues of our times.
Lovisa Kjerrgren, a designer in the Laguna Beach studio, presented her winning entry for the 2015 Wayne Grace Memorial Student Competition, “Pretty Heroic,” as part of the conference Film track at the CELA conference.