Distance education

woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)December 8, 2010

In winter 2009 I took the Landscape Design 1 course through the distance education program at the University of Guelph. It was lots of fun and a great way to keep from going brain-dead over the winter! I'd like to do the same sort of thing this winter. The only course that appeals to me on their course list at the moment is the CAD course (see link). Has anyone taken this course there and have any comments? Is there anywhere else I should be looking at for an alternate course of some sort relating to landscape deisgn? I would like a more 'theory' oriented course but there isn't one on their winter schedule. I thought getting to play with the fancy software should be a fun alternative! :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: U. of Guelph distance education CAD course

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Dynascape is a nice program and used by a lot of landscape contractors. They have done a great job of taking the learning curve out of making a good looking plan early on.
I don't know anything about the course, but landscape architecture at Guelph is a very well respected.

There are two different approaches to teaching CAD. One is what is called "product oriented" and the other is "process oriented". Eithercan be good, depending what you are trying to get out of it.

"Process oriented" is going to teach you the commands so that you understand the program and you can then go about your business using those commands as you see fit. This is best for professional people who know what they want to do with it and just want to learn how to maximize the use of the program.

"Product oriented" is going to teach you specifically how to produce certain types of drawings. This would be better for someone looking to be able to produce a certain kind of plan more directly without going into too many different ways of using the commands in the program. This would be good for a landscape contractor or garden designer learning this program which makes me think it would be best for you.

My best guess is that it would be a product oriented course because Dynascape is a program designed for a specific product - landscape plans.

Dynascape is on the spendy side, well over $2k I believe. The student version probably has a subscription length or watermarks plans so that you could not use it freely down the road, although I don't know for sure.

I think that you'll learn a lot about drafting landscape plans whether or not you continue to use the program.

They used to have good video demonstrations on their website. I believe the parent company is still called "gardengraphics". They have nice demos at trade shows. I believe it is a Canadian company as well.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 10:15PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

The course materials list says we get 12 months use of the software for $125 + $25 shipping cost. We don't get the manual as part of that - which worries me a bit :-) The prof. is supposed to be able to provide all necessary support. I gather the manual is available - but not sure of the cost... Will I need the manual do you think?

Between the course fee and the software cost, it could be an expensive recreation for the winter (but less than I'd spend on the garden in 4 months of spring or summer :-) And I'd have 8 months after the end of the course to play with the software for my garden, which should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, it'll be the 'product oriented' approach - and hopefully I'll get into the course (it's limited to 25 students; the registration process didn't say the class was was full, so hopefully I'll be accepted.) None of the other courses interested me. I had fun with the last class (and did quite well). It was a lot more work than I expected though, so I should be a little more prepared for what this might throw at me.

What software program do you use?

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 10:51PM
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I use Autocad Lt in my landscape design business (I work full time in a civil engineering office). That is because I had formal training in Autocad while in school and because I have used various forms of Autocad for ten years in civil engineering offices. Autocad is not landcape specific and can have a steep learning curve or not depending on how deeply you want to use the program. Acad Lt costs about $900, but there are several clones available for as little as $200. They are sold under a number of names under the licensing of a consotium called "Intellicad".

Learning on a program like Dynascape is good in my opinion. This is because they set up default line thicknesses and various other drafting standards that take out the mechanical look that early users of a basic cad program. This allows you to have a nicer looking plan right away. Then if you use a program like Intellicad, you can set your line thicknesses yourself with an understanding of what makes a nicer looking plan.

Most cad programs have very similar commands, so learning one is definitely helpful if you should use another later on.

My guess is that there will be a lot more knowledge taught than just using the program. Things like what size particular plants should be drawn at, spacing, basic layout, and maybe some site measuring techniques. Hopefully, learning the program is only one part of what you'll get out of it.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 7:03AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Interesting... Since I have no 'business' use/intent from taking the courses, I found that the other course I took ended up feeling a bit like an art course :-) The isometric view of the plan I produced at the end looked like a very interesting 'artistic' drawing rather than a technical one. (The isometric view wasn't a requirement of the course but I was fascinated by the one I saw in the text and wanted to learn how to do it; the prof. let me submit that for the final project instead of the more conventional elevation view. I found the expected elevation view too artifical-looking because it doesn't give a very good feel for depth in my opinion). So, learning to make a good-looking CAD plan is probably the most useful possible outcome of the course - I'd love to be able to make a very nice plan of the garden here in the 8 months I'd have to use the softwae after the course. I have the architect's elevation views of this house framed and hung in the front hall. It'd be fun to have a 'pretty' plan view of the garden to hang in garden photo gallery we're planning to put up in the hallway to the living room this winter.

Last time, I was the only student taking the course 'just for fun'. I'm sure that's likely to be the same this time if I get in. I'm definitely an oddball with too much time on my hands! :-)

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 9:42AM
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Learning is a great hobby whether you apply it directly or not. If you do take the course, pay attention to how the program is using line thickness to make the plans look good. This is what sells Dynascape in my opinion. Most other CAD programs leave it up to the user to pay attention to line thickness and/or assign it themselves. Many users do not do that which results in very techy looking plans because all of the lines look the same. All they have done is to pre-assign basic hand drafting standards to the program.

You can reverse that by using fatter pens and thinner pens to get the same effects on paper if you pay attention to that.

Good luck either way.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2010 at 7:44AM
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Hi Woody, I took that course from Guelph a few years ago. I was very happy with it and I used Dynascape until my student price ended. I dont think you need the manual, the course materials and online forums answered all my questions. I use what I learned in my small garden design and install business and from that perspective it was really great. I do very nice designs by hand, but the dynascape made a very professional presentation and helped with aspects of my hand drawings also.

I took several of the u of guelph distance learning courses, and I always had some difficulty with the online discussion part of it - not much of a discussion usually. The online forum was really helpful for the CAD course however, because every question I thought of was already there, and I felt as if different students understood the geometry and design at different levels, so it gave me several opportunities to understand the same issue if you know what i mean.

I regret that I cant afford to continue with the dynascape software, I just dont do enough design work to justify the expense. I think it was worth what I learned for the price though.

I have a hard time getting through winter now too. So funny that you asked this question because I was looking at their winter offerings the other day too. Nothing that was interesting to me except maybe plant id - but I think it would be information i already know? Not sure.

Do you have any othe questions about the course? I wont be around this weekend but whatever you want to know I will answer on Monday! Good luck

    Bookmark   December 10, 2010 at 4:00PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

It looks like I got into the course - received an e-mail this afternoon with the form to complete and send back to order the software!

Drtygrl - the discussion forum on the LD1 course was quite active, although clearly some people were more comfortable using it than others. The prof. told me (not on the forum where others could see) that there were a number of students who were not very computer-literate and a bit intimidated by it all. The discussion did tend to be more mundane than I had hoped, given the title of the course. But, for the CAD course, mundane how-to-do-whatever... is what I would expect most of the discussion to be about.

I was wondering about the plant ID course too but concluded that wasn't really what interests me now. I figure I know enough about the plants I use or want to, or can find any information I'm missing easily enough that it's not worth taking a course in it. I'd likely get bored - and that's not what I want to pay good money for! :-) The things that interest me these days is shaping the space and creating and editing the 'pictures' in the garden. The CAD course should give me a useful and fun toy to play with for awhile :-)

My other winter project is writing a 'maintenance manual' for our garden. Now that DH is retired and doing more work in the garden, he could use something like that! Also, at some point in the future as we age, we may want/need to hire a landscape service of some sort, so it could be useful for them too. And at some (hopefully distant) point, we could leave it behind for a subsequent owner. I fully expect though, that a future owner would likely be a bit freaked by this garden and rip a lot of it out! They might keep some of the showier trees and shrubs perhaps.

I'm now trying to finish the manual before the course starts in January. At this point the manual is 28 pages and about 11,000 words! There are many of pictures though so that accounts for a lot of the space. The discussion includes information on the 'why' of each area as well as the 'what' and 'how to maintain it'. Also, I'm trying to make it possible for someone to just read the section that they want to work on, so there's quite a bit of repetition since the same plants occur in several places. There's also a point-form seasonal chore list that can be read quickly. It's turned into a good review of the garden for me too - I now have a growing list of things to add and change for next year!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2010 at 4:59PM
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WOW! thats a great project. I have tried to do a similar thing for the gardens that I maintain, but I cant really get to the detail level that would be helpful during the off season and during the season, i dont really have the time to do it! I would really love to see what you come up with!

I think that "mundane" is the perfect word for the LD class discussion- it was pretty disappointing. The CAD course is similar but since its more technical it worked for me.

I am glad you got into the course - I think you will enjoy it!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2010 at 6:51PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

drtygrl - If you really wanted to see what my manual looks like, I could e-mail it to you when it's done. It's a big Word file though - 3.12 MB so far! Most of the pictures are in the file now so it shouldn't get hugely bigger... I have a list of pictures I need to take next year for it - mostly of the weeds I warn against (e.g. ash and buckthorn tree seedlings, yellow wood sorrel, garlic mustard) so it would be easier for someone unfamiliar with them to recognize them.

I see that you have not activated the e-mail function so you'd either need to do that, or e-mail me and then I could respond to that. At the rate I'm going, I won't be finished with the manual until sometime over the holidays likely.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2010 at 9:38AM
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Woodyoak, I would be delighted to read your manual. Are you willing to offer it on this forum? It would be a huge help for us in doing the same thing for our gardens, with you having shown us how/why of it.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   December 12, 2010 at 5:01PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Rosie - I have no idea how I could put access to it on this forum... I know how to post pictures but I don't know of any way to link to a text document on my computer and I don't have a blog site (I guess one of those would be a way to provide access...?)

    Bookmark   December 12, 2010 at 5:27PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Rosie - and drtygrl: I'm experimenting with putting a copy of the maintenance manual on a blog page so it can be seen on-line. I put a bit of it at the link below to try it out. I think I can make it work but will concentrate on finishing the Word version first.... (I think there's a problem with inserting pictures - I got a little pop-up message about secure content when I accessed it through the link below and had to click 'no' in order to get the picture to show - did that happen to any of you that try the link?)

I got the software for the course last week and have played around a bit with the exercise in the Quick Start Guide that came with it. It looks like some of the label things aren't activated yet since I got an error message when I tried to access them. I foresee that sorting out the layers thing is likely going to be a troublespot! :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: maintenance manual - testing....

    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 8:45PM
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