New Urban Planning Course Connects U.S. and Russian Students through a “Virtual Classroom”

May 22, 2019 / Updated Mar 17, 2020

The University of Maryland’s Office of International Affairs has awarded Dr. Marie Howland a $12,000 Global Classroom Initiative Grant to develop a new cross-continental blended learning course in economics and urban planning. The course, developed with Russian colleague Professor Leonid Limonov of St. Petersburg’s Higher School of Economics, National Research University (HSE), will connect 24 students—12 from UMD and 12 from HSE—through a virtual classroom experience, conducting meetings and online work simultaneously from opposite ends of the globe. This is the School’s first venture into an internationally collaborative online course.  

“We are incredibly proud of Marie and her hard work in bringing this course to life,” says David Cronrath, Dean of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “This will no doubt be a rich learning experience for our students, from both an academic and a cultural standpoint.”

The course will compare various industrial districts in the U.S. and Russia, examining the policies that drive their creation and the effectiveness of clustering like-industries, a theory known as agglomeration economies, to improve operation efficiency and gain a competitive edge. The benefit of studying the industrial landscapes of the U.S. and Russia—two very different economies—is that it allows students to examine the idea of industry co-location through multiple lenses, including geo-political, environmental and industry type. Under the direction of Howland, Limonov and their respective colleagues, students will meet weekly for a joint “virtual class,” and engage in online cross-continental peer groups. Another key aspect of the course will be learning shift-share and cluster analysis through modules developed by UMD’s EDA University Center this past year. 

“This portion of the course dovetails with on-line training and implementation of a regional economic analysis module developed by Professor Scott Dempwolf and his graduate researchers this past year,” explains Howland.  “This class will give us a chance to try out this module in both the U.S. and Russia.”

While the course is geared specifically toward students pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning, it will also be open to advanced undergraduate students and interested Ph.D. students in Urban and Regional Planning and Design. The course debuts in the spring of 2015 and will run for at least three consecutive spring semesters. 

Howland and Limonov have collaborated on projects for over 20 years, including six summer studios in St. Petersburg. The most recent summer studio was a 2012 interdisciplinary study of the Gasholder’s Site in St. Petersburg. While Howland hopes to continue orchestrating study abroad trips to St. Petersburg, the new global classroom course could potentially serve in its place if U.S./Russian relations remain strained. 

“We greatly value our continued relationship with our Russian peers,” says Howland. “Politics aside, I think we still have much we can learn from each other. I am very pleased to be able to continue working with Professor Limonov and his students.”