Award-winning innovative teaching techniques

Using Jenga blocks, doing urban parkour and creating digital virtual tours using 360-degree cameras are some of the innovative teaching practices used by James Berghan in his lectures.

Professor of urban design at the University of Otago’s Te Kura Kairuri School of Surveying has just won an $11,000 innovation prize from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in the United States, for his land surveying practices. teaching in his third-year paper on urban design.

Only four prizes are offered each year.

“I was absolutely thrilled when I heard the result, and as I am particularly interested in teaching and research methods, having my teaching practices validated in this way is a fantastic recognition,” said the Dr Bergan.

During the 2020 lockdown, Dr Berghan created an assignment that required students to interact with Dunedin’s urban environment.

He set up online “missions” that required students to submit photos, videos or text responses collected during walks around the neighborhood during the lockdown.

“The assignments included a range of urban design concepts from identifying traffic calming devices, to street art and hauora- [health] well-founded ideas such as the role of public and green spaces.

“But it was also important to incorporate fun elements because the lockdowns were such a difficult time, so I also included assignments such as students submitting a video of themselves doing parkour in an urban space.”

Much of his urban design work involves location-based teaching, and when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a handful of his students switched to online teaching.

So he created a digital tool to complete a semester-long site-specific project in Andersons Bay Inlet.

With a 360-degree camera, he created a digital virtual tour of the area for online students to experience being there.

He said the process involved embedding photos and video at a series of geotagged points around the site, linked to specific features and displayed in different conditions such as weather and tides.

He also developed a housing research method using Jenga blocks as a tool to work with groups whose voices were less heard, such as kaumatua, refugees, students and young adults.

He has continued to use and modify these assignments over the past two years, and students say the key lessons from this approach have “really clicked.”

Dr Berghan said it was his “ultimate teaching goal”.