Professor’s dream course imagines ‘landscape of everybody’

Paradis blog

Bringing blog success to the classroom

Professor Tom Paradis just wanted to update his architectural history websites but ended up launching a blog that continues to draw international attention.Now he plans to apply that lesson to his dream course: GSP 399: Architecture, Landscape and Preservation.

The conversion from website to blogging platform has emerged into a highly successful blog, pictured above, that gets hundreds of visits each day. Based on that experience, and some testing of student blogging in a summer program Paradis teaches in Italy and in a course on the Flagstaff campus, he’s confident of success.

“The blog project is an ongoing, comprehensive documentary of their learning throughout the semester,” Paradis said, noting that students learn to write professional posts, imbed links and digital photos and write informative captions.

“They will be creating a landscape blog of their field experiences,” he said, which can be used to “showcase what they’ve learned” when the students apply to graduate school or seek a job.

Tom Paradis designed a “dream course” to help students understand influences on human landscape design, but his motivation is strictly down to earth.

“This class is about common, ordinary landscapes,” said Paradis, professor and chair of Geography, Planning and Recreation. “What we’re interested in is the 95 percent of stuff built for you and me. Students, as geographers and planners, will work in real-life communities, so they need to understand the landscape of everybody.”

As a 2011 Distinguished Teaching Fellow, Paradis was given the opportunity to develop and teach a dream course, and he already had a good start. The course to be offered this fall, GSP 399: Architecture, Landscape and Preservation, results from years of tinkering with an urban design course that was “just too much information.”

“I wanted to see a series of classes,” Paradis said. “That’s the dream and that’s what I’m doing.”

The 399 course is actually an eight-week session that is preceded by GSP 303: Community Design. Together, they form the six-credit course series Urban Design, Architecture, and Landscape.

Paradis calls GSP 303 “an evaluation course. Students evaluate what’s not working and then ‘fix it’ with 3D modeling.” In 399, Paradis will ask students to “suspend your value judgments and understand why a place has developed as it has. What are the dynamics of the place? Why has it changed so much and what are the rules?”

Understanding architectural history, Paradis explained, is crucial in the discipline of geography and planning.

“It’s vital for students to be able to go into a place and visually understand how it developed over time,” he said, offering downtown Flagstaff as an example of how respect for historic preservation can be the basis for revitalization. “It’s very useful to understand how geography happens and how places change. That’s the fundamental lesson of this course.”

The courses reflect Paradis’ own interest in applying architectural history as a context for making livable, sustainable communities. As he put it, “How do we take commercial strip landscapes dominated by cars and traffic and turn them into pedestrian-oriented places where people want to be?”