Ducktectives – Quacking landscape design and e-learning
Type of snapshot
Provision in the curriculum: skills/literacies addressed in topic module
‘Learner-led’ provision, e.g. formal and informal mentoring, buddying, skills sharing
What was the context for this snapshot?
This project involved second year students from the Writtle School of Design (WSD) studying on the BSc. Honours Landscape and Garden Design and local schoolchildren developing the children’s playground as an outside space for learning. Students of landscape design need to develop an understanding of a site and the people who use that environment everyday. Engaging with communities to establish a ‘client brief’ can be perceived as difficult and strategies are needed to hear the smallest voices in communities. Children particularly may have the best ideas but not always the means to express them verbally. This project was developed to use digital technology as an engagement tool to interface between children, students and the landscape to test children’s opinions. In addition it acted as a means to observe the children’s reaction to their outside space, other users, and wildlife. This project was led by a Landscape Design Tutor in partnership with the New Media Designer from the Centre for the Arts and Design in the Environment (CADE) as part of the module Garden Design Projects. This was funded by Writtle College’s Learning and Teaching Fund.
New Media Designer
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
Landscape and garden design students can be challenged when entering new environments and meeting new communities. The community and context needs to be evaluated and understood before appropriate concepts can be applied to a site and design solutions proposed. Various methods such as questionnaires, interviews, and observations can be useful to ascertain certain responses to client’s wants, needs and expectations of the landscape but these methods can be limiting and inappropriate for some communities. The use of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology in Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) provided the means to engage children with the early stages of the design process. Writtle students effectively used the technology to invent a game ‘Ducktectives’ in the form of a treasure hunt to guide the children through their school grounds while enabling the students to gather verbal responses, and observe children’s behaviour.
Students were excited by the potential of the technology and the possibility for them to create their own method of engaging with the children in the form of action research but were somewhat challenged by the programming of the technology. Students worked synergistically with CADE’s New Media Designer who understood their inspirational concepts and enabled them to become a reality.
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
This project aimed to develop specific communication and information gathering skills in design students. The pedagogy that underpinned the project is based specifically within a socially and culturally situated practice of the ‘design cohort’ engaging with another ‘client group’ in the form of action research in a particular spatial and temporal landscape context.
Students were highly motivated by the idea of integrating the digital world with real landscape. The development of Ducktectives and the subsequent event provided evidence not only of self-transformation but of group transformation within both Writtle students and the school community.
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
The students’ use of the technology was not assessed, although the results gathered from the technology were used in the resulting landscape design. Certain students were selected to gather class opinion in the development and production of ‘Ducktectives’, these were not necessarily those with the best digital skills but those with the strongest leadership skills.
”’Writtle Infant School Master Plan, by Landscape and Garden Design Students, Writtle College, 2008”’
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
The use of the technology was effective in the sense of the engaging with the children, although this was done in combination with more traditional methods of interaction with children of that age group, i.e. hand drawing. The students who led the project found it to be the most beneficial to their learning as they had the most input to the design process and interaction with the New Media Designer. It would not have been feasible in this context for each student to design and create their own interactive game due to cost and time restrictions, although this could be possible in other teaching scenarios. Some students realised the benefits of the technology, and as such are considering using it in the information gathering process of future projects especially those involving community groups.
Students needed a strong theoretical framework in which to consider a technological approach to engaging the children with the landscape. Extra time was needed to experiment with the technology and for the New Media Designer to realise the ideas of the students by programming the software and to ‘trouble shoot’ on the day of the treasure hunt.
The technology has inspired many ideas for pedagogic and landscape applications by both students and staff and the project’s success was demonstrated by the student’s empowerment and motivation. One student reflected, “…inventing Ducktectives allowed us to get the creative juices flowing earlier in the design process. Being able to observe the children interacting and responding to their environment was invaluable to gaining a different perspective; through the eyes of a child. It allowed us to develop a rapport very quickly and the ideas came freely from the children.” The project also encouraged staff involved to further developmental research interests in the fields of Human Computer Interaction and Mobile Learning. One staff member has since begun speaking at conferences and seminars to share his experience of the collaboration. He says that “Ducktectives allowed me to use and develop my skills in using ubiquitous technology and cutting edge software in uncharted territory. Invaluable!”
When using the technology within the class teaching time I would advise showing students past examples of projects, and allow them time to be inspired and reflect upon the particular context to which they are applying the technology.