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Project introduction and background information

`The aim of the project was to develop a programme for the graduation year that enables students of Landscape Architecture to obtain the research, design, and professional competencies required to start their careers. And in which students take ownership of their learning process, supported by the community of fellow students and teachers.

 To realize this, we integrated three, parallel scheduled, elements of the second Master year: a new MSc thesis (LAR80530), a new Design Practice (LAR71824; in line with the standardized format of MSc thesis at WUR but focused on landscape design skills instead of an internship), and a new course Professional Profile (LAR39506) to ensure personal and professional development of students as well as a proper career orientation.

Objective and expected outcomes

The pedagogical problem we wanted to solve with this project is the following: 

The professional field of Landscape architecture requires advanced design skills from LAR graduates. Furthermore, WU landscape design is founded on academic research, focusing on a thorough understanding of landscapes as socio-ecological systems. This is what distinguishes WU landscape architecture graduates from other landscape design graduates, and for which the programme is highly appreciated by the work field as well as by accreditation panels. Therefore, the aim is to teach advanced design and research skills as mutually dependent skills. “Research by design” is the proverb used to describe this academic approach to landscape design.

The Board of Education has allowed the LAR specialisation the opportunity to program for almost a year for academic teaching of design skills as well as research skills, by offering a Design Practice parallel to the standard WU MSc thesis. It enables students to obtain advanced research and design skills under academic supervision in a studyable programme, like in similar master’s programmes worldwide.

Results and learnings

The project is implemented as planned in the proposal. We didn’t make any significant changes in terms of aims, focus, involved actors, or outcomes. We achieved the aims of the project outlined in the project proposal:

-   the integration of the three courses (the MSc thesis LAR80530, Design Practice LAR71824 and the course Professional Profile LAR39506) was successful. The students provided positive feedback during the year with regards to the content of the professional profile course and 80% of the students indicated in the PACE evaluation that they strongly agreed with the statement ‘I am satisfied with this course’. Furthermore, all stated they had a better understanding of their professional skills and ambitions after taking this course.

-   the earlier problem of student delays is solved. 80% of the students finished their studies on time, and the remaining 20% have documented extensions which do result of structural problems but of personal conditions (health-related reasons or student’s decisions to take extra courses). The success rate of MLP-A is now similar to other master programs.

-   most students and teachers are satisfied with the products of and the processes of learning in this graduation year.

-   the assessment strategies are more structured; they are now based on defined criteria and rubrics (in comparison to the years before the implementation of the project).

-   mandatory co-supervision is implemented and the amount of supervision hours provided by teachers and coaches matches the budget available for supervision.   

Aims of the project we are not able to evaluate at this point:

-   to what extent the professional field is satisfied with the competences of the graduates. The graduates just recently completed their studied and we do not have the needed time distance to be able to evaluate this goal of the project.

-   to what extent we have achieved adequate career preparation. While the course Professional Profile (LAR39506) received good student evaluations, professional competencies and professional identity depend on many other factors that are outside of the scope of this project

-   whether certain parts of the set-up of the course Professional Profile (LAR39506) should be altered. While in general the course was evaluated positively, certain aspects of the course were evaluated less positively. Most importantly, this pertains to the assessment method. Two out of five students stated in the PACE evaluation that they found the assessment method unclear. During the group discussion at the end of the course, some students indicated that they found the level of individual reflections asked of them to pass the course unnecessary/too much. Furthermore, there was also a general disappointment about the disappearance of the internship and frustration regarding how this had been communicated to these students. Some of them had chosen the WUR specifically for their master because we had the internship in the program and felt ‘cheated’ when the internship disappeared. Due to the fact that the course was evaluated positively in general, the course coordinators have decided to keep the structure of the course intact this academic year. The new group of students have all chosen the master MLP-A with the knowledge that there is no internship and hence, the course coordinators would like to assess their PACE evaluations before making changes to the course. If this year they receive the same message, they will evaluate the assessment method and make changes if deemed necessary.  

Evaluation of the project was done using several information sources and methods:

-   course evaluation results

-   five out of six of the thesis supervisors involved in the new gradation year were interviewed about design/setup of the courses and experiences with teaching and assessment.

-   all graduation year students were interviewed individually at least three times during their graduation year to discuss the setup of the courses and their learning experiences. Their experiences in the Professional Profile course were also discussed during these interviews, as well as during group sessions.

-   evaluation of course materials

-   analysis of student outcome numbers (influx versus outflux, study duration, profiles followed/taken).

The most significant results of the project are the following:

-   80% of the students graduated on time. Student delays are controlled and managed. Thus, the project managed to address and successfully solve the problem of student delays in completing the MA thesis, as one of the main problems of the program in the years before the implementation of the project.  

-   the course Professional Profile allowed students to develop different professional identities and focusing on different skills and content.

 We learned the following:

-   a good organization and a team of devoted professionals are crucial in implementing innovations in education.  

-   innovation of education can help build a program in which students take ownership of their learning process.

-   innovating education, particularly in the field of landscape architecture, must inevitably be focused not only on academic skills and competences, but also on achieving adequate career preparation, professional competencies and professional identity

 What will you do differently in the course next year compared to the first time you offered the course with the new setup?

 In the first year, we intensively supervised, followed and monitored the development of the project and continuously evaluated all teaching and learning activities. Based on our results, no major changes need to be implemented in the second year of the project.


 Our plan is to disseminate the project results during the current academic year. Dissemination activities will include the following:

-   presentation during WUR teacher days (LAR Life) and lunch workshops of ESC.

-   dissemination of findings via the 4TU.CEE Innovation map, Resource or other relevant outlets for WUR teachers and students.

-   potential publication on teaching research by design in Landscape Architecture

 In the current academic year, we will 1. plan several presentations about the results of the project 2. support and encourage publications among LAR staf that refer to the teaching by design method that is implemented in the program and the ways it is affected by the innovation changes and 3. find ways to disseminate the results via relevant outlets for WUR teachers and students (e.g. LAR Life and Teacher’s Day). 


Our advice to other lectures who start a comparable project is to:

-   form a devoted team and learning community (students, practitioners, teachers, program management staff) with whom you will discuss and elaborate the changes and exchange experiences. Innovations come with doubt and insecurity; thus, a devoted team that strongly believes in the innovation is crucial for a success of a project.

-   closely monitor the developments. This is particularly important in the first year, when the project should be intensively supervised, followed and monitored. All teaching and learning activities should be continuously evaluated. This knowledge can be used to improve the second year of the pilot.

plan for a duration of three rather than two years of the innovation project in order to see the results. In our view, only in the third year of development is one able to see if the innovation project resulted in a stable teaching programme.

Practical outcomes

Other MSc programmes can use our project as a template to develop their own graduation year projects. In particular, the insights from the professional profile course (LAR39506) can help other MSc programs in bringing the professional fields closer to the students