CD-ROM was developed for distance education course in landscape design
BY ANDREW VOWLES
They've yet to use it in the classroom, but a new electronic textbook scheduled for introduction in the fall has already won a national citation award for a U of G landscape architect and her former graduate student.
Prof. Nancy Pollock-Ellwand and Susan Preston, now working on a post-doc at McMaster University, will receive the award this spring from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) for their CD-ROM for a first-year landscape design course at Guelph.
Called Landscape Legacies: Created Space From the Prehistoric to the Present, the electronic textbook uses a compelling, colourful mix of text, photographs and graphics to trace the history of landscape design up to the 18th-century Picturesque Movement. Contained on a single disc, the e-book consists of the equivalent of more than 500 pages, including upwards of 1,000 photos.
Pollock-Ellwand, an expert in cultural and heritage landscapes, says the CSLA citation is “recognition that landscape history is extremely important for landscape architects and recognition of innovations in the way we deliver a course.”
The CD-ROM will be included in a course package this fall for “The History of Cultural Form,” an introductory course Pollock-Ellwand has taught for more than 10 years to about 50 students each semester. It became a distance education course offered through the Office of Open Learning (OOL) in 2001.
“This is one of those projects that grew,” says Pollock-Ellwand, explaining that she had initially envisioned a disc of visual images to supplement the course manual. “It began as a course resource and morphed into an e-book.”
She notes that the partnership between OOL and the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in designing the distance course and developing materials for it did much to influence the nature of the final product.
Like conventional textbooks used in other historical survey courses, the e-textbook covers the history of landscape design through successive periods. But the new publication's interactive nature will allow instructor and students to jump among sections and explore conventional material in different ways, says Pollock-Ellwand.
Students using Landscape Legacies will click through historical periods and visit different parts of the world by following design themes, principles or typologies (kinds of spaces). The disc also contains a glossary, bibliography, footnotes, index, timelines and a search engine.
Click on a photo of an English country estate, for instance, and you can watch the expansive lawns morph into a modern golf course. Far from merely distinguishing between old and new designs, she says, the point of similar morphing images that bookend each chapter is to show how certain principles and forms persist over centuries or even longer.
That's where the “landscape legacies” moniker came from, a concept that Pollock-Ellwand says finds expression on the U of G campus in the near-iconic status that is accorded Johnston Green more than a century after its creation.
“It's the idea that there are echoes. Nothing is really created anew.”
Although the content of the disc is international in scope, including material about ancient Greece and Rome and the Far East, Canadian examples do appear. Clicking on sacred spaces turns up images of cathedrals alongside a photo of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, arguably an iconic landscape for Canadians. Elsewhere, the Vimy Memorial in France commemorating Canada's role in the First World War appears in a discussion of vertical monuments.
Preston, who completed her master's degree with Pollock-Ellwand in 1999, is now studying indigenous cultures and landscapes in McMaster's anthropology program. She brought a background in the classics and ancient history to the project.
Preston says the disc allows students to explore the social, cultural and political issues that underlie landscape forms and helps explain why landscape elements look the way they do today. “Everything in the landscape has a legacy.”
The pair researched and wrote the electronic textbook with help from other grad students, including initial research by PhD candidates Susan Mulley and Lee-Anne Milburn.
Earlier beta versions allowed the group to revise the textbook based on students' feedback about such features as navigating around its components, says John Cassidy, OOL's manager of distance education and DE learning technologies. Staff in his office have helped with everything from organizing the textbook's layout and obtaining copyright clearance on its contents to marketing the book.
OOL director Virginia Gray says producing this electronic textbook was a first for her office. Although textbook publishers routinely publish CD-ROMs, she says she knows of no such publication produced by another university's distance education office. “It's a peer-reviewed scholarly publication.”
Digital North Media Inc., a screen media company, created animation and digital graphics for the disc. Landscape Legacies will be published and distributed by the University of Toronto Press.
Pollock-Ellwand says the project has required her to rethink learning styles, including considering how students engage with the course and each other in front of a computer screen rather than in the classroom. “All of that was interesting from my point of view as a teacher.”
Besides providing the electronic textbook to U of G students, the authors are now considering making it available to other landscape architecture schools in North America and perhaps even worldwide. Noting that the disc covers a standard first-year university curriculum common to most design and planning schools, Pollock-Ellwand says: “This potentially would be very attractive to schools that may not be able to hire a design history specialist.”
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