Teaching with elementsdb

elementsdb: Engaging students with the environmental dimensions of urban design via the web

“Engaging students with the environmental dimensions of urban design via the web” applies, evaluates, and expands elementsdb in courses and design studios at UBC. Current students are digitally sophisticated and tend to prefer digital reference information, particularly resources that are interactive or can be manipulated. Students who study urban sustainability must attain literacy and familiarity with abstract, empirical and three-dimensional information about the forms and systems that make up cities, and frequently surf the web for examples of buildings, sites, neighborhoods and infrastructure. They are often satisfied with (or perhaps can only get) images and superficial information. For most, connecting critical, empirical information with the visual and experiential qualities of urban spaces is challenging. Introducing elementsdb to students as a reference resource helps to fill this void in on-line information.

In 2010/11, 150 students in nine courses in landscape architecture, urban design, planning, and environmental design participated with this project. Through the project, we trained faculty /teaching assistant (TA) teams to use elementsdb in their courses to expand students’ knowledge base about the form and metrics of urban sustainability. Students themselves engaged in critical cross-disciplinary consideration of the complex factors of urban sustainability, and some students assisted with database creation and evaluation.

In 2011/12 we expanded our reach to additional courses, including large undergraduate classes in agro-ecology and took specialized students in our own courses deeper into applying the database to critical evaluations of urban form. In 2011/12, we also tested the use of the database in two different virtual environments: GoogleEarth and a multi-touch table.

In 2012/13 we engaged a group of research assistants to: add a community of interest module; redesign the learning tutorials; refined protocols for students to create cases; and add building energy content to the database. We sustained seven core partner courses and added one new course? a building systems course in Architecture who will test and evaluate new case creation methods and the energy modules.

Related Publications: 

Senbel, Maged, Cynthia Girling, Ron Kellett, James T. White “Evaluating a New Media Tool for Design and Planning Students,” CELA 2011 Urban Nature Proceedings, forthcoming.