The crit experience

Posting my reflections on B plus or A minus? Assessment in the Creative Disciplines @ University of the Arts London – 09 Feb, 2018.

The day overall was well structured and led to thought-provoking discussions. Some of the things that stood out for me were the importance of building a shared language with students in any given stage of assessment and feedback, the messiness of why and how we use learning outcomes, ipsulative assessment (looking at individual progress in context), a deeper focus on the learning process and an awareness of power dynamics within any learning setting.

The most eye-opening session for me was when we sat down in small groups with a UAL undergrad student and talked about his projects.

I want to reflect on the session here to clarify my thoughts on assessment and feedback:

– Giving feedback, including grading, is something we should be doing for the interests of our students.

– It shouldn’t be something we’re doing for the institution – related to this, in another session our discussion group came to the conclusion that learning outcomes are mostly written for institutions, not for the student or for the teacher.

– Shouldn’t be about validating the quality and the rigor of a program.

– Shouldn’t be about showcasing expert knowledge or presenting the expert as the source of inspiration (the guru model)

– Students are grade focused but even process-oriented approaches won’t make a difference unless we think about formal education in fundamentally different ways (can we ditch summative assessments, for example?).

– The choices we make in assignments reflect our vision for students and our knowledge of how to get there.

That doesn’t mean we decide everything for students. Rather, this should be about co-creation, collaboration and dismantling existing power structures.

Now, going back to the small group session with the UAL student (this is a bit hazy but I asked a colleague in our group and she confirmed the story), this student described a group critique in which an assessor ripped up a student’s work because it was, apparently, rubbish. When I reacted to this, a design lecturer told this story: One day an expert designer from the industry visits the class, takes a quick look at student projects and then crosses all the works he/she doesn’t like with a red marker. Everyone is in shock – they talk about this for a long time.

Both the lecturer and the student said this type of feedback was questionable but also commented that these kinds of experiences help students detach themselves from their work: help them have an objective look into their creation. Some students didn’t like such approaches, but on reflection they agreed that their work wasn’t “good.”

But here is what was discussed earlier:

We spent all morning talking about power and agency…

Ok, I’m not going to talk about the first incident (assessor ripping up student work) because it’s possible that this was an extreme example and also because I’m hazy on it. It’s possible that it was the student who ripped up his/her work based on feedback. I’m going to tweet this shortly and I hope somebody from the session will correct me and say something like, well it was actually, quite the opposite, the student work was never ripped up, in fact, it was a valuable learning experience and … never mind.. but I carefully listened to the second incident and I know that an expert evaluating student work with a red marker in hand did happen.

Isn’t part of our duty as critical educators help students see the existing hierarchies of power, between students and teachers, between experts and novices, and in the society at multiple levels? Isn’t it our duty to recognize the student as a whole person, and set aside our own assumptions and interpretations of what is good or bad? Isn’t it our duty to provide a safe space for all learners, a space of trust and well-being? I would love to kick that expert out of class, although I think in practice that would be a bit difficult without some sort of drama.

This morning made me think about the importance of creating bonds and relationships in education, of the meaning of feedback and grading, the meaning of power, red marks, crumpled up student works.