Incorporating Industry Input into the Development of Educational Objectives for Landscape Management Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

Professional landscape managers were surveyed to identify design and construction topics important for inclusion in a new course for Landscape Management students. The professionals rated the importance of 17 topics from Not Important (1) to Very Important (5). Landscape Contracting faculty compiled the list of topics. Respondents also answered demographic questions regarding their companies. Topics with the highest ratings were client relations, influence of maintenance on design, construction plans & details, and design elements and principles. Least important were regulations and codes, and cut/fill calculations. Responses to demographic questions revealed landscape companies with diverse foci seek landscape management employees who possess similar skills and knowledge.

Introduction

Approximately 140,000 businesses in the United States are classified as providing landscaping services. These companies employ more than 700,000 people (University of Georgia BOS/SBDC, 2001). As identified in Lawn & Landscape's "State of the Industry Report 2000," one of the primary challenges facing the industry today is finding qualified employees (West, 2000). In response to the demand for qualified landscape employees, universities across the nation have created programs that provide the necessary preparation and education to students interested in the landscape contracting industry.

The first step to improve American higher education was identified in National Goals for Education: Goals 2000 as fostering relationships between academia and industry (Office of the President, 1990). In Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula, Robert M. Diamond emphasized the importance of involving "outside sources" such as employers and recruiters in the development of higher education courses and curricula. This is because, in determining what students should learn within a course or curriculum, business leaders tend to be more practical and focused than educators within the program. Also, the use of "career-specific" information in creation of a course focuses the program on the industry it serves (Diamond, 1998). Additionally, involvement of landscape industry professionals in landscape contracting curriculum decision-making aids faculty and instructional designers in creation of current and applicable course content (Baker & McLaughlin, 1996; Iacomini & Reneau, 1988).

Other institutions have verified the approach of involving industry input in the creation of curricula. At Cook College, Rutgers University, instructional designers assessed the needs of students, faculty, and industry, before making any changes in their agriculture curricula. The information gathered from these groups was used to develop the curricula and plan for implementation. Through their participation, students, faculty, and industry members were given a sense of ownership of the curricula, and were thus devoted to successful implementation (Merritt & Hamm, 1994).

Since its inception, the success of Penn State's Landscape Contracting program has been built on industry interaction and support. Landscape Contracting faculty strive to strengthen ties between academia and the profession through a variety of means such as instructional field trips, participation in trade association activities, classroom presentations by company representatives, and involvement of industry input in curriculum development activities. Penn State's Landscape Contracting faculty first collaborated with industry when the program was created in 1989. The program was developed to prepare students for employment in the landscape design/build profession. The curriculum was structured to develop the analytical, artistic, technical, and scientific skills that are necessary for the proper planning and installation of landscape designs.

In June 1996, Landscape Contracting faculty met with industry members to discuss industry trends and the future direction of the Landscape Contracting program. …