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.


From democracy to educating the whole person – My associative trails

I had a quiet time reading Parker J. Palmer’s most recent book this morning and in the spirit of  thoughtvectors I am sharing my associative trails here before they start fading away.

Palmer says,

…war is not the only setting in which violence is done: violence is done whenever we violate another’s integrity. Thus we do violence in politics when we demonise the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favour of politically expedient decisions.” (Parker J. Palmer, 2011) (emphasis mine)

The quote above sparked my interest as just recently in my Tech and Ethics class one brilliant student, Grace Wengler, had raised questions about the meaning of integrity. Wasn’t it culturally constructed? “Might someone NOT feel humiliation if they were never taught to be embarrassed?”

I searched for the meaning of integrity, out of curiosity to see what would come up.

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To my surprise, the second Google dictionary definition mentioned “the state of being whole,” which was something I remembered reading in bell hooks:

“Denying the emotional presence and wholeness of students may help professors who are unable to connect focus more on the task of sharing information, facts, data, their interpretations, with no regard for listening to and hearing from students. It makes the classroom a setting where optimal learning cannot and will not occur.” (bell hooks, 2003) (emphasis mine)

Wholeness of students made me think of this great interview with Gardner Campbell, Educating the Whole Person. At the very beginning of the interview Gardner says:

“We are talking about lives. We are talking about minds. We are talking about ideally, As Randy  Bass puts it, the whole person. And the whole person is much more than accessories bolted onto a body. It is about a life lived in space and time with the potential to touch many other lives.

I mentioned the whole person in education in my dissertation but I didn’t explore the concept in depth and I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Gardner myself (I examined a course he co-designed and taught with a group of faculty at VCU). It was intriguing to come back to it almost a year after my defense. In the interview Gardner talks about how learning can be made personal with meaningful connections, he talks about the importance oftapping into the very meaningful and deep ways to students’ disposition to connect,” and “[helping students] have an understanding of their own needs and identities”... Now I felt like I got a gist of this complex concept because it was discussed in context.

Still, I wanted to find out more about this so I followed Gardner’s shout out to Randy Bass and found really interesting resources, one of which is the Designing the Future(s) of the University project – described as an integrative initiative engaging the whole Georgetown [university] community. And here below, I think I found good summary of educating the whole person. The italics in the quoted section reflect my thoughts:

“[The Formation by Design Project is] dedicated to shaping students to be fully human [so education is not all about the intellect], to cultivating their authentic selves [the relational selves, the way learners feel and live in the world], and to inhabiting a sense of personal responsibility for improving the world [working towards something larger than personal goals, ambitions]” (Formation of Design group).

From democracy to educating the whole person… there are interesting connections remain to be made…