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Online Geodesign graduate studio tackles Florida's climate change challenges

Penn State’s Master of Professional Studies in Geodesign successfully implemented its first exclusively online studio course this spring. The maiden offering was taught by renowned geodesign pioneer and leader in the field of spatial environmental planning, Dr. Michael Flaxman. This intense fifteen-week course was conducted in a multi-platform distributed virtual classroom environment that aimed to replicate many of the strongest attributes of a traditional studio.

The studio identified climate change as its over-arching challenge engine, and focused upon the state of Florida due to its status as a major contributor of emissions and its susceptibility to some severe effects of climate change – the canary in the American coalmine.

Students selected watershed study areas from distinct geographic regions of the state. The studio explored and applied the GIS modeling concepts of suitability and vulnerability, and made use of various available climate change data sources to examine long-range scenario planning, and they used acquired data sets and techniques to address a regional design challenge. The final assignment focused upon a transit-oriented development project with green infrastructure elements.

Miami could accomplish their growth needs with this design approach. It is tested and scaled to fit and the work establishes a convincing case. It is the right combination of ideas the city could consider and creates a realistic plan. – Dr. Michael Flaxman

According to Flaxman, “The students each tackled issues unique to the area of Florida that they selected. The results were specific and real for those places. They designed elegant, credible solutions that citizens would be enthusiastic to support due to the number of benefits the plans outline.

The hallmark of Penn State’s online graduate programs in geodesign has been the goal of traditional collaboration and peer review fully integrated in a distance-learning course. Students from this studio hailed from different corners of the United States as well as Mexico and Australia. The class made use of an avatar-based space for synchronized meetings, and the students and professor used a wealth of different web and cloud applications and tools to converse and critique regularly. The program will continue to evaluate and implement these, and new tools as the second studio in the sequence launches this fall.

Student map of Florida showing mitigation scenarios
Student map of Florida showing residential data
Game-styled computer graphic showing student avatars in virtual collaboration space