Integrated Learning and Assessment in the Capstone (Landscape Architecture)

Each spring, WSU’s Landscape Architecture seniors get the chance to experience a landscape outside of the classroom and to interact with the people who live in, work in, and care about that landscape. Their senior capstone course is a service-learning studio that challenges them to generate designs in response to the needs of a particular place and people, applying their knowledge and skills in a real-world setting. The title of the capstone course, “The Confluence,” reinforces this goal: similar to the junction of rivers, students are asked to merge many things into one, integrating their prior learning and experience. The senior project embodies more than a compilation of skill sets, however; it is an opportunity for students to develop, expand, and challenge all they have learned–to see and create anew. 

This spring, the setting for The Confluence was, quite appropriately, the Puyallup River Watershed, which stretches roughly from Commencement Bay to Mount Rainier in Washington. Students explored and generated designs in response to interrelated issues of the region, including stormwater, salmon, agriculture, urbanization, transportation, and social justice. The course project complemented work being done by the Puyallup Watershed Initiative and involved contributions of time and attention from many organizations, firms, and agencies.

Landscape Architecture students and faculty at Upper Clear Creek mitigation site.
Students and faculty at Upper Clear Creek mitigation site with WSU LA alum Derrick Eberle (in green), whose firm (Bruce Dees & Associates) is the lead on the project.

Three sources of assessment feedback about the senior project came together–in another sort of confluence–to give needed information both to students and to faculty who are working to continuously improve the program: faculty rated student work on a rubric based on the program’s student learning outcomes; stakeholders involved in the project gave comments on student work; and professionals with WASLA (the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects) also gave feedback.

As in previous years, faculty will consider this spring’s assessment results when making decisions about curriculum and instruction for the coming years. Past years’ results have informed a variety of decisions, including one to re-structure the relationship between design instruction and technical instruction, on topics such as Geographical Information System and site engineering. Based on the capstone and other assessments, faculty decided to be more explicit in guiding students to integrate these skills throughout the curriculum.

Landscape Architecture’s curriculum and assessment have responded to changing needs in the profession, as well. This year, faculty added three program-level learning outcomes in response to modifications of WASLA standards and also in response to Landscape Architecture’s increasing interaction with the other professions in the School of Design and Construction (Interior Design, Architecture, and Construction Management). Jolie Kaytes, program head for Landscape Architecture, explained, “The formation of the School of Design and Construction amplified our awareness of diverse and integrated design and construction practices.” What had been implicit values of the Landscape Architecture program became explicit expectations for students and for program success. The new outcomes are about cultivating an awareness of professional practices. This includes expectations that students will “Understand multiple aspects of practice” and “Show a capacity for collaboration” – skills that seniors will have ample opportunity to demonstrate each spring when they wade into their final challenge as Landscape Architecture majors to develop, expand, and create something new.