Environmental Planning Weeks 5 and 6 – Nature in the City, and preparations for site visit by the students

Time flies and it is already mid-February. Teaching at two institutions as an Adjunct gives me a lot of opportunities to meet students from all over the world and to teach at a local university at the Master level, and an Australian university with a branch in Singapore at both Master and Bachelor levels. Two different systems also allows me to have an insight as to how different universities manage and plan their curriculum and administration. One institution is almost at the end of the Academic Year, while the other will have a mid-Semester break next week – a much needed rest for me!

Last week and this week, I focused on the feedback by past students to improve my slides. I found a way to revamp my Interactive Seminar on Planning with Nature in Urban Areas Part II. I flipped by doing Social (Parks) and Economic first last week. Tell a logical and cohesive story. I also inserted thinking activities for almost every section which links back directly to the students’ Environmental Planning Project.

Included Frederick Law Olmsted into Parks – don’t know why I did not include him earlier. He is crucial for social sustainability of parks. Included the meaning of Stocks and Flows. Revamped the Framework diagram – makes a lot of sense now. I also entitle the sections differently to the Approaches so that a summary of approaches is different from the outline. I also include a summary of the different topics into one Framework diagram using different colours.

I realize that I need to write a paper on this! How? a. with Ulrich and indicators, b. with Green Certifications, or c. with Student design and planning work!

For Part II, I also revamped the flow of the Environmental Layer – start with nature versus biodiversity to distinguish between perception versus ecology. Then go into Landscape Ecology, Ecological Networks, Corridors and the Matrix in detail – link this to social and economic. Revamped the diagram with the Land Mosaic labels. Then I decided to name the next section as Multifunctional Landscapes with the approach as Integrate Approaches. I end with Biophilia which is the same field as the first topic on Nature last week – Environmental Psychology.

What is interesting and coincidental (or serendipity?) is that my co-lecturer’s presentation was on Biodiversity at the Project Site. I placed his lecture this week because he just got his position approved and contract signed, and this is the last lecture before the mid-Semester break, during which the students will go to the Project site by themselves to conduct a site survey in groups of 5 or less. It is still not possible to bring the students for a field trip to the site since 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions. Hence, I have decided to do vLogs of my own site visit and upload them to the LMS. The students will present their findings right after the break. His lecture and mine are situated in perfect timing with the Project timeline.

The students formed their teams without my supervision via Padlet – it was an idea to use Padlet for setting up Teams this Semester – I did not think of this earlier. Google docs is too cumbersome because it uses my personal email. Padlet is very versatile, and so is Mentimeter. I met up with Team 1 whose members joined individually – leftover from the others in the class who joined as groups. This Team has two powerhouse students – one a GIS user and one Urban Designer from the Master of Urban Design Programme. So I just needed to guide them in terms of the site boundary, what to do for the site visit and survey (including the use of Epicollect5 App), and how much work to put in. I then made an announcement to the LMS to the other students what I have informed Team 1. Very exciting. Master students are always full of initiative and ideas. This batch is even better because they ask a lot of good questions and are intellectual extroverts.

Some questions:

1. Oasia Building in Singapore – if the intention is to draw biodiversity, then wouldn’t it need to have stepping stones leading to the building?

2. What is the meaning of ecological sites?

3. What does parks that make money mean – is it about implementing payment in parks? (No! It is about parks for tourism e.g. Gardens by the Bay and Heritage sites).

I look forward to the presentations by the students in two weeks!

Malaysia made history with a national ‘partial lockdown’ due to Covid-19 – how it affects me as an educator in Malaysia teaching Landscape Architecture

I am from Singapore and I travel daily to work across the border to Johor Bahru to teach at the University there. The day that I feared would come since the spread of Covid-19 has just happened. Malaysia has declared a partial lockdown whereby foreigners cannot enter the country while Malaysians cannot leave, starting tomorrow till then end of May. This is due to a sharp rise in Covid-19 positive cases. In these times, I am glad I am prepared for eLearning.

I started planning this Semester last November so I could not have predicted what was going to happen in January 2020 onwards. I decided to implement Problem-Based Learning as a response to poor examination results by my first year Landscape Architecture students in theory-related subjects, in spite of incorporating Cooperative Learning (Kagan Structures), Active Learning activities and Interactive Seminars. The beauty of Problem-Based Learning is that it can merge with Flip Learning and eLearning very well. With the lockdown, I am no longer able to travel to work, which will be closed for two weeks anyway. I can now easily incorporate eLearning by mixing Flip, Zoom Meetings and students having to work on a Problem Statement followed by a reflection.

This is also when I realize that many of my colleagues, particularly older Professors, are resisting eLearning and still rather do face-to-face because they are not equipped to do so. I have extended my offer to help them with the concepts and technology and some are open to that. Meanwhile, I will push on with ensuring that my students still continue to learn asynchronously and synchronously while I am able to cross the border to go to my workplace in Malaysia.

Singapore has increased her border control and what it means for my Environmental Planning classes in Singapore

I am from Singapore and the government recently increased its border control in order to minimize ‘imported cases’ of Covid-19. I am teaching a class of international students, so this news has a direct impact on some of them. They worry that they will be unable to continue with my course if I were to conduct face-to-face learning because a few of them are from countries from which Singapore has either banned visitors, or those with visa holders are given a ‘Stay-At-Home’ notice once they return from a trip. In times like these, I am glad I am prepared for eLearning. I just reassured them that I will continue to conduct the module via eLearning mostly synchronously via Zoom meetings.

I started planning for this Semester since last November so I could not have predicted what was going to happen in January 2020 onwards. Fortunately, I learnt how to use Zoom when I attended a webinar with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects last year. I found that it is a very intuitive, flexible and very easy-to-learn tool for having online lectures, seminars, and student presentations. This settles the lecture series. However, the challenge for me is that this is a project-based module. After discussing with my Teaching Assistant, I decided to do a vLog for the field trip to the project site. I took the students for a ‘tour’ by talking while walking at the site and recording it. I also encouraged the students to explore the site using Google Earth in both map (2D) and 3D views.

The students are also provided with a Microsoft Powerpoint template at A1 with a print-screen of the map from Google Earth and Google Maps, which they can use to annotate when they carry out site analysis. The template sets up the map at A1, which can immediately be exported to an A1 sized pdf file and sent for printing immediately. They can also export the A1 maps into Adobe Photoshop to work with layers of different analyses, or to a GIS Platform such as Esri’s ArcGIS. Once they have completed their site analysis, they then present their work via Zoom while I host the presentations. The advantage of Zoom is that the students do not need an account. They just need a link to a Zoom meeting from me. The disadvantage is that I have to upgrade my account with Zoom to extend the meeting beyond 10 mins (under a free account). This is a small investment when compared to the value of being able to teach online as the need arises, which, in our current world, is not just for convenience, but rather a necessity and emergency to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Teaching Ecology to Landscape Architecture students: Verbal feedback about Problem-Based Learning and Zoom teleconferencing

Last Tuesday, 3 March 2020, was our first face-to-face class after two weeks of learning from home and via Zoom. It was good to see their faces again. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction because we get that energy, connection and buzz that you don’t get during teleconferencing. The students did not like Zoom. I reassured them that this was only a trial just in case the COVID-19 situation gets worse and we all had to do eLearning and learning from home, like many institutions in Singapore just across the border already. I told them that I was reassured that they know how to use Zoom.

As for Problem-Based Learning, one lady told me it was hard. I explained to them that PBL has worked for Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, where students who did not do very well for the GCE ‘O’ Level International Exams (akin to the Malaysian SPM exam) attained high GPAs via the RP pedagogical system. I know that it takes a bit more work in the part of both the students and educator but it may pay off. I explained that in the past, and I have taught many undergraduate LA course subjects at UTM, of which three classes involved examinations, my students did badly for the examinations component. This brought their grades down to B- and Cs. There must be a cognitive issue somewhere even though I have inserted cooperative learning activities, quizzes via Kahoot, and reflective learning in between breaks in a lecture. Perhaps it is language, the difficulty of the topic or the lecture slides that I provide. I am testing this in an action research.

I must say they love Kahoot although I realize that in order for Kahoot to be useful, we as educators need to explain the right answer for every question as they come.

Therefore, I hope my students put some trust in me, follow where I am leading them, and hopefully the examination results in the coming months will speak for itself.

Environmental Planning at Master Level – my invite giving the first lecture by a guest

Singapore was one of the first countries to be hit with the COVID-19 virus after China. Stringent measures were immediately put in place in February including raising the alert level to DORSCON Orange. One of the impact of this move is that some institutions like mine went to eLearning mode.

Yesterday, 2 March 2020, was my first guest giving a lecture to my students via Zoom. I was relieved it went very well. My guest put a lot of effort in his slides so it was not an issue that we did not see him face-to-face. I also learnt that I did not have to hand the hosting over to him in order for him to share his slides on the screen. I still had control as the host.

His feedback was interesting. Bear in mind that he had not met the students before and that he could not picture the classroom. He sent me a Whatsapp message after the Zoom meeting saying, “As soon as I start on the second slide, my energy fell as im [sic] just speaking to the computer. Hope i didnt [sic] sound too monotonous or hypnotising”.

I reassured him by saying, “I know what you mean regarding energy levels dropping. It feels like talking to an inanimate object but I reassure you that 43 students are listening. This batch (of students) is quite active and extrovert. I have the advantage of having seen them face-to-face so I can picture them when I speak via Zoom. It is a challenge for all of use to deal with this virus. Imagine doing a group planning project without a site visit, and all (of the) crit (sessions), and presentations (are carried out) online.”

I will talk about the group planning project for this module in another blog entry.

Ecology for Landscape Architects: Try out teleconferencing with Zoom for the first time with my undergraduate class

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, I wanted my students to be familiar with teleconferencing, especially when they have to present their solutions within a Problem-based learning framework. It is interesting and rather coincidental that COVID-19 came when I have decided to change to a Problem-Based Learning Approach, which complements eLearning, Blended Learning and Teleconferencing very well (unlike Lectures and face-to-face class activities alone).

I instructed my students to download the Zoom app yesterday, and posted the invitation including the link to the Zoom meeting on their eLearning platform. The students were required to present their solutions to Problem Packages 1 and 2 (of the past 2 weeks). In spite of the poor wifi reception for some (wherever they are), the students went for it. I reassured them that this is a fun learning process, and there is no pressure to present well. 9 students presented from 6 teams, each given 5 to 10 minutes. They were confident, able to share their slides, mute and unmute their speakers, respond to messages in the message section, and rejoin the meeting when their wifi failed them. I am reassured that the students will be able to manage a teleconference platform like Zoom in future in the event that eLearning should become mandatory. I am also more confident in using Zoom now and no longer have to worry if face-to-face classes were to be suspended for whatever reason.

My students are required to reflect on their experience using Zoom for teleconferencing. Let’s see what they have to say next time. The questions that I pose are as follows:

“Think of how we all used Zoom to conduct presentations to everyone today.

  1. Do you find it useful?
  2. Did you enjoy it?
  3. Is Zoom difficult or easy to use?
  4. Do you learn better this way than presenting in class?
  5. In which situations does teleconferencing becomes necessary?”

Landscape Architecture in Malaysia: Team recommended changing pedagogy today during board meeting

Disappointed with exam results (mentioned this already). Team recommended changing pedagogy today during board meeting. One Professor also commented on Whatsapp when I asked. Either the students do not understand English very well or the concepts are too deep, or the exam questions do not relate to what they have studied, despite Cooperative Learning activities.

Landscape Architecture: Propose change in pedagogy from Active Learning to Problem-Based Learning incorporating Blended and eLearning

After making the exam scripts for my Introduction to Landscape Architecture course, I was disheartened that the students did poorly, in spite of incorporating Kahoot and Cooperative Learning activities in an Interactive Seminar fashion such as think-pair-share, mind-mapping and reflective practice. This has been the case at my university for exam-based subjects for the past 3 semesters, especially when there is a lot of theory. I have decided that the lecture-activity approach is not working for my undergraduate students. I would like to introduce another pedagogy, the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach which is an established approach at the Republic Polytechnic, Singapore. I also intend to incorporate Blended Learning and e-Learning by maximizing the eLearning platform at my university. This includes providing pre-lesson reading and viewing materials, writing reflections after lessons, participate in discussion forums online, and doing fun quizzes and crosswords.

Within this framework, I will provide slides and video resources before the lesson in a Flip Lesson format. Upon coming to class, the students will be given a Problem Statement to solve pertaining to the topic of the day. For some lessons, they will do a Kahoot quiz to see how far they understand the pre-reading materials. They are then divided into groups of 4 to 5 (30 students in the class) and discuss the solutions to the problem. They can take their time to discuss the solutions after the lesson and upload their presentation slides by the next day. Due to the shortage of time (2 hours per lesson each week), the groups present their solutions on another day.

Planning the Landscape Ecology Course for the Bachelor of LA Programme

About to teach one of my favourite subjects, ecology. The Landscape Ecology course at the university has focused on species and ecosystem ecology. As landscape architects, the students need to learn about the landscape scale of ecology, which has been covered briefly in the third year GIS course and Resource Planning Studio. I think that there is a need to do in depth into the relationship between landscape metrics and ecological principles. Quite excited about it. Thinking of several ways to do it – blended, flip or jigsaw-based classrooms, incorporating technology in teaching. I also think that I need to introduce the genetic scale of biodiversity as an introduction. Start small, from the atom to the cell to the genes, and then species and upwards. Unfortunately, the Ecology Studio will be carried out next semester, not in tandem with this one. Otherwise I could have planned the activities with the Studio work. Nonetheless, this course will prepare them for the Studio next semester.