The Critique – an explorative enquiry


Sarah Stevens


The paper relates an explorative investigation into the ‘critique’ (where students present their design project to a panel of critics in front of their peers) to identify its potential as a pedagogic approach founded in a constructivist ideology. Qualitative data was gathered on the critique experiences of a sample of final year undergraduate architecture students through questionnaires and interviews. It was found that engrained paradigmatic assumptions generated power imbalances inappropriate for a constructivist approach. The critique was found to generate anxiety and both extrinsic and achievement motivation, leading to surface learning through the prioritisation of graphic communication over design. A new form of review addressing these findings is proposed as the basis for further research.


The critique is deeply embedded in the tradition of architectural pedagogical practice but appears rooted in a different epistemology to that which informs the rest of the studio tradition. The critique, crit, jury or review, as it is also termed, involves a student presenting their design project to a panel of critics in front of their peers. The potentially negative learning experience which can arise from the anxiety generated by the critique, and the implications of this causing extrinsic motivation and a surface approach to learning (Askew & Lodge in Blair 2006), raise questions over the critique’s validity as a modern pedagogic tool. Indeed Webster found that intended learning outcomes were generally not met by critiques (Webster 2006a), illustrating a lack of alignment. Percy also found the critique “fails to serve as a vehicle for students to express their learning” (Percy 2004, p.53). These findings suggest underlying paradigmatic assumptions (Brookfield’s definition, 1995) that the critique is the way to assess architectural students, rather than it being the ideal. With summative assessment of the critique now removed and replaced by a portfolio submission, the critique now seems somewhat impotent and its role unclear.

In this study I undertake an explorative investigation focusing on the following two research questions as a basis for a further future investigation. First, is there a still a perceived role for the critique in undergraduate architectural education?  Second, is the critique a valid and positive tool for undergraduate architectural education today?

Context and literature review

Architectural education is rooted in the studio tradition, a learning by doing approach that mimics the professional environment (Schön 1985). Students are set a brief, a problem, to resolve under the guidance of a skilled practitioner and, as such this is a form of problem based learning (Biggs & Tang 2007). Donald Schön has written widely on the advantages of the studio approach to teaching and its basis in reflective practice, proposing it as an appropriate basis for education in the professions in general (Schön 1983,1985,1987). The underlying pedagogic approach indeed has many merits, offering the opportunity for research based teaching, high levels of formative feedback, reflection and following Kolb’s learning cycle. The critique’s existence within this approach raises epistemological and ideological questions.

The very terms critique, crit or jury all embody an historic adversarial lineage (Webster 2006a) and imply negativity (Orr, Blythman, Blair 2007). The critique embodies the transmission model, where the tutor is the focus and the student a passive receiver, and positivist epistemology (Yanar 1999). In the epistemology of positivism, knowledge is seen to be out there, and the pedagogical process a means of indoctrinating students into the profession and shaping them to be of use to a society which is seen to exist independently of individuals. Critiques arose in the development of education for the professions away from apprenticeships (Melles 2008) as a means of assessment where a panel would judge their worth as a developing member of the profession (Webster 2007a). Percy found that the critique’s function was still largely hierarchical, to show the tutor as the ‘authority’ (Percy 2004). Webster noted that both discursive and nondiscursive practices are used in the critique to exercise power, leading to indoctrination into societal norms rather than students constructing their own identities (Webster 2007).

The critique can cause high levels of anxiety, and even in the weeks prior to the critique its effect can be felt, causing a visible destruction of intrinsic motivation and a rise of both extrinsic and achievement motivation in students (Webster 2006b). Anxiety within the learning climate can also lead to surface approaches to learning and expresses a Theory X learning climate (Biggs & Tang 2007). Anxiety during the critique, wanting to get the review over with (Webster 2007) and the defensive attitude induced by the critique, can limit learning benefits (Brookfield 1995). It can also cause the student to be less able to both express themselves and hinder the effectiveness of verbal assessment feedback (Blair 2006). Creativity thrives when people are both psychologically and physically comfortable (Danvers 2003 in Blair 2006), arguably the antithesis of the critique. Melles’ discursive analysis of a critique revealed the inherent emotion and impact of spoken feedback (Melles 2008). The discursive format also potentially disadvantages students for whom English is not their first language. Blair also suggested that small groups were an advantage in minimising anxiety.

With the critique moved from summative assessment to formative assessment, it is questionable whether it succeeds in being formative. Feedback is an important element in the learning process, which can also increase self-esteem, but feedback needs to be interactive (Black & William 1998) and enable the students the ability to reflect. If students are not involved in formative assessment this can cause a lack of engagement (Sadler 1998).

The studio model lends itself to a constructivist approach to learning, where knowledge is seen to be constructed by the individual, a very different ideological foundation to that lying behind the critique. The critique is however also intertwined with positive factors that Schön expounds. Orr, Blythman and Blair found considerable benefits: seeing peers work, opportunities for students to learn from one another and dialogue feedback (Orr et al. 2007). Current critique practice is supposedly based on this practice, however Webster concludes that there is “a considerable misalignment between espoused aims of the design jury and the effects of the jury in practice” (Webster 2006a, p.5). The epistemological ghosts still appear to haunt the critique.


As the aim of this study was to identify the potential of the critique for a pedagogic approach founded in a constructivist ideology, the methodology needed to provide an appropriate lens through which to examine this question. The key was to capture the students’ knowledge, one of many equal threads, there being no one absolute truth. Phenomenography was an influence, as I was concerned with students’ experience. Quantative data would offer the opportunity for statistical analysis but its worth would be completely dependent on asking the right questions. One point of this explorative study was to unveil what the right questions might be, and spread the net wide to achieve this. For all the aforementioned reasons I selected a qualitative methodological approach.

The make up of the critique panel is a major influence on the critique experience (Blair 2006), disallowing a level of generalisation. In order to acknowledge this I chose to base the research on my own practice in order that the results assist critical reflection. My dual role as researcher and tutor would however generate a power imbalance. Negative responses would not readily be given to someone with influence over their grades and future (Brookfield 1995). Placing the research after the final assessment as much as possible would act to minimise this, but it would need to be factored into the analysis. I considered taking Brookfield’s approach to critical reflection, as I wished to question my own practice. Such an undertaking however would have been beyond the scope of ths initial study.

Focus groups were considered but I wished to hear individual voices without the possibility of others influence. I did not wish there to be a sense that there was a right answer and felt a group context might have engendered this, silencing some who due to agreement amongst others might suddenly feel I therefore can’t be right. This might particularly have been the case with more introverted students, who could have some very valuable insights due to their high sensitivity to their environment. This method would have also favoured students who were more confident in expressing their thoughts, therefore not offering a necessarily true view of the consensus.

The selected methodology was formed of two elements, a questionnaire of open-ended questions and a series of semi-structured interviews. A parallel investigation of tutor attitudes would have been revealing, although outside the scope of this initial explorative study.


The questionnaire was issued following the final third year cross unit critique in week 10 of Semester Two. The format for the critique is shown in Table 1. The timing and peer group meant that the students had the maximum opportunity for exposure to critiques in undergraduate education. The sample size was 12 (the number of third year students in the group), with 10 returns.

Table 1: Critique format    
Critique panel: visiting tutor, unit leader (myself), year 5 architecture student.
20 minute duration kept by a time keeper.
Inital student presentation to the panel of 5 to 7 minutes.
A record of the critique is written on the student feedback sheet by a colleague during the critique.
After the critique the student adds their own thoughts to the student feedback sheet and submits it to the panel.
The panel read the student feedback sheet and then complete the marking grid and provide written feedback addressing the issues at the critique and those the student has raised in their feedback.

Semi-structured interviews were completed in week 13 and 14 of Semester Two, strategically timed to be after the final assessment. Four students were interviewed out of the group of twelve. Each student’s experience was seen as one of twelve equal threads, all equally relevant to this study. The four were therefore self-selected through a willingness to take part.



The written answers provided to the open ended questions of the questionnaire were analysed with an aim of identifying ways forward for a more extensive study; to find what the right questions to ask might be. The acknowledgement that each individual’s experience would be informed by his or her own personal history also had an influence on the interpretation. Four main threads were identified and these are summarised in the tables below. The opportunity was taken to explore themes arising across questions, and so these threads do not always directly relate to one question. The identification of these threads points the way towards questions to be asked in the next stage of the research. Lesser noted concerns are shown in Table 2.


The questionnaire was designed to enable any anxiety related issues to come to the fore across the questions, rather than specifically targeting anxiety with a single question. Anxiety is seen by some as a sign of weakness, direct questions may therefore have limited students’ willingness to be open about their experience. Issues raised in the literature concerning anxiety were echoed in three of the student responses and these are summarised in Table 2. Some comments referred to anxiety generated prior to the start of the critique, implying expectation and suggestive of previous negative experiences. All these respondents were weaker at design. Students who were stronger at design all referred to constructive feedback, or a good experience. Clearly it is easier to receive validation of your work than have it questioned, but the influence of my position as both researcher and tutor is potentially influential on findings.

Table 2: Anxiety
1 One student wrote the critique was ‘not terrifying’ which is very suggestive of both expectations, and experience.
2 Another wrote it was ‘unnerving’ and that ‘the speech is a difficult time’ and they found the discussion element more relaxing.
3 Another commented that she felt ‘quite nervous before and that causes me to rush through the presentation’.
4 ..not too many people, so more personal and comfortable.’

Anxiety and feedback

The recall of feedback was directly targeted by one of the open questions.  All 10 students stated they did remember at least the main points of the feedback they were given. The comments made are listed in Table 3. Of the remaining five students, three responded by providing a literal summary of their feedback, whilst the remaining two merely stated they did remember. Anxiety therefore in this instance did not appear to significantly influence recall of feedback. This suggests the critique was fulfilling a formative role, however an unwillingness to reveal lack of recall to their tutor must be considered.

Four of the students noted the written feedback as helpful, two explicitly citing the student scribe’s record as valuable. One noted a need to focus on a couple of factors “which seem the most important” to remember.  It has to be taken into account that even without anxiety it could be difficult to retain such a large quantity of verbal feedback. The importance of both the student scribe and written feedback is therefore implied.

Table 3: Anxiety and feedback recall  
1 “Yes because it is similar to where I was thinking of going. Feedback sheets help.”
2 ‘Most, if not I hope my student friend wrote it down.’
3 ‘Some of it, mostly that which I didn’t agree with or surprised me.’
4 ‘Mostly, but it is good to have a fellow student fill in a form along with post crit feedback.’
5 ‘Most of it I think but sometimes this can be a problem. I normally need to focus on a couple of factors which seem most important.’

Anxiety and formal hierarchical format

When specifically asked their opinion of the critique format, formality was related to the generation of anxiety by five students. The preference was for a smaller group in a more informal setting (Table 4).  Intriguingly however, four students commented that they were happy with the present format of the critique, although a lack of student interaction was noted by one of these students (one student gave no response). Whilst it is not possible to generalise from these findings, it is interesting to note that a proportion were content with the critiques current form. My dual role of tutor and researcher might have a bearing on this, as might indoctrination noted by Webster (2007).

Table 4: Anxiety and formal hierarchical format 
1 ‘Sometimes a more informal approach can be more valuable’.
2 ‘When I am standing up I find it a bit harder to gather my thoughts.’
3 ‘..not too many people, so more personal and comfortable.’
4 ‘The speech is a difficult time. I find it more relaxing to talk with the tutor/review panel than to stand and state everything.’
5 ‘A big tutorial might be better than a formal presentation. I feel like I get to express more when I am comfortable, sitting down and having a more one on one conversation.’

Tutor focused

One thread, which emerged in response to open questions relating to the format, was the tutor centred nature of the critique. Four students noted this as an issue (Table 5). Only one student however specifically saw tutor focus as arising from the critics’ behaviour. The rest laid the responsibility with student group, noting how few offered comments or even stayed for others critiques.

Table 5: Tutor focused    
1 ‘Maybe students must be more interactive.’
2 ‘Allow for more student comments.’
3 ‘Disappointing not many people gave their comments – only the critics.’
4 ‘Perhaps [remove] the time slots – so people don’t leave straight after their crit – it leaves few people to observe your project – not as much feedback as possible.’

Other concerns

The students also noted concerns (Table 6) to do with time, the relationship of the critique to the summative assessment of the portfolio (where the student is not present), and also referred to the benefits of a student critic. One student cited time limitations as a rationale for the tutor centred nature of the critique.

Table 6: Other concerns
1 ‘Less verbal presentations and more reliance on drawings to speak for themselves.’
2 ‘I would change the time limit…maybe if the [critique] wasn’t so rushed and the tutors had time to get in closer then the feedback would be improved.’
3 ‘I’m not sure what I would change other than time constraints.’
4 The mixture of people really helps, especially having students from recent years as they understand what is possible and what is expected.’

Semi-structured interviews

The analysis of the interviews revealed all four students shared quite similar concerns and these formed into four threads: motivation; feedback and visiting critics; tutor focus and student involvement; and critique timing. The issue of time constraints imposed through the relationship of the group size and the university programme also came up as a sub-issue of many of the comments.


The critiques influence on motivation is shown in Table 7. Quote 1 reveals extrinsic motivation and achievement motivation generating surface learning and destroying intrinsic motivation. The student from quote 3 felt pressure was needed to motivate them to produce “good work”; this indicates the possible influence of indoctrination into a culture where motivation by fear is acceptable.

Table 7: Motivation   Classification
1 ‘Students feel that they have to sell the concept off the page, and glossy well resolved images benefit them. If you are just working on a scheme it can be problematic.’ Reveals: Extrinsic motivationAchievement motivation

Destroys: Intrinsic motivation

2 ‘Crits keep you working and everything flowing.’ Reveals: Extrinsic motivationAchievement motivation
3 ‘If there are new people, then there is more pressure and you feel they expect good work, so it kicks peoples butts into gear.’ Reveals: Indoctrination – motivation by fear is acceptable

Feedback and visiting critics

The impact of visiting critics new to the work is illustrated in Table 8. Visiting critics were generally seen positively, but the overall number of critics on the panel was influential. A large panel with visiting critics was seen to lead to too many ideas or not enough time for everyone to speak. One student also expressed the belief that visiting critics raised the students’ expectations of the quality of work required and “kicks peoples butts into gear.” (see Table 7, quote 3).

In Table 8, quote 1 illustrates the potentially damaging impact of new subjective opinions. The request in quote 2 to provide visiting critics with a framework for the discussion echoes this concern. Quote 4 raises an interesting point regarding the timing of the introduction of new ideas through its reference to the interim. This remark is particularly suggestive of past negative experiences of the introduction visiting critics new points of view at the final critique. A student becoming upset at a final critique would otherwise suggest a lack of alignment of feedback leading up to that point.

Table 8: Feedback and visiting critics  
1 ‘Do need stronger criteria given to guest critics; points agreed on so you are not questioned and taken back to square one.’
2 ‘It would be good if critics were briefed beforehand on peoples work to see direction, see process.’
3 ‘Interims can be positive. You can’t come away too upset as you are still open to ideas.’

Tutor focus and student involvement

None of the students felt it particularly worthwhile watching other critiques other than to gauge standards, echoing Blair’s 2006 findings. Table 9 quotes each of the four students’ responses. One commented “Looking at other’s work is useful, but not listening to them.” Another stated “I’m not sure that it [staying for others critiques] helps much academically. It does help to get to know the guest critic and then you can change your presentation to suit.” The present format appeared to be the issue and this is clearly expressed in quotes 1 and 4. The perception of a need to wait until the end of the critique to make a comment is clear in quote 1, as is the desire for a discussion based format in quote 4. The fourth student commented that the critiques were “too tutor centred” and noted the seating arrangement as a contributing factor. The hierarchy implied by a seating arrangement where the critics are placed at the front is noted by Webster (2006a, 2006b). Orr, Blythman, Blair (2007) also found issue with such an arrangement and have proposed alternatives. This format going largely unquestioned by the critics begins to point to the extent to which it is engrained within architectural education.

Table 9: Tutor focus and student comments
1 ‘You want to comment on the work yourself but you have to wait 20 minutes…Too tutor centred, almost becomes a tutorial on a more public scale. The way it is set out with the tutors placed forward and the students at the back also means they can just walk off…. Force them to be actively involved so there is a connection from the start. Asking them whether they think the work meets the requirements.’
2 ‘Looking at others work is useful, but not listening to them.’
3 ‘I’m not sure that it [staying for others critiques] helps much academically. It does help to get to know the guest critic and then you can change your presentation to suit.’
4 ‘It [listening] is not really worth the time at the moment. If it was discussion based it would be, but there would be a time issue then. Perhaps less formal crits, a unit based event….Not really time for all comments of other students [at present] and not sure they are of much use.’

Critique timing

All four students related the formative value of the critique to its position within the programme. Table 10 shows that the final cross critique was universally seen as too close to the summative assessment, a portfolio submission requiring a different approach to the critique. The students commented: “the difference between the final crit and the portfolio is huge” and “crits are very different to the portfolio hand-in.” All of the students interviewed had otherwise stated largely positive views of the critique. The student from quote 3 stated that they viewed the critique generally as “100% positive. They [crits] keep you working and everything flowing. Also they are good for talking to people, a confidence thing.” The comments overall illustrated a strong perceived difference between the value of formative feedback provided through a critique at an interim stage as opposed to at a final critique towards the end of the year.

Table 10: Critique timing    
1 The difference between the final crit and the portfolio is huge.’
2 ‘Final crits can be damaging if tutors want things changed…insane amount of work at the last moment.’
3 The final one worries me a bit. If there is a serious problem with the design and someone says you have to change this, you don’t have enough time and don’t do things to such a high quality.’
4 The final crit timing could be earlier, but you deal with what you are dealt. Crits are very different to the portfolio hand-in.’


Is there a still a perceived role for the critique in undergraduate architectural education?

The study reconfirmed the complex nature of the critique experience recorded in the literature. It surprisingly revealed a largely positive attitude to the critique, which is supported by elements of other studies (Blair 2006; Orr, Blythman, Blair 2007 and Schön 1983,1985,1987). This verbal feedback must however be looked at in the light of indoctrination into societal norms of the profession (Sadler 1998), lack of other comparable experience and particularly an unwillingness to provide negative responses (Brookfield 1995). Once the students interviewed expanded on their initial positive reactions to the critique however, concerns emerged related to student engagement, timing, motivation and the impact of underlying power structures. The students may not have desired an abandonment of the critique, but its format was questioned. The use of fear as a motivating force came up a number of times revealing extrinsic motivation, questioning the critique’s validity as a modern pedagogic tool.

The introduction of a visiting critic’s feedback was seen as potentially negative and most students interviewed gave proposals to address this. Airing of different views illustrates that there is not one ‘right’ answer, however, assisting in the development of “independence of thought” (Brookfield 1995, p.14). Further work is needed to determine a means for these positive aspects to come to the fore in the critique.

Overall the critique was seen by the students in this study to still have a role in architectural education, but only with qualification. The final critique before the end of the year proved the only instance where the critique’s relevance overall was directly questioned, but this was universal amongst the interviewees. These students therefore did not perceive a role for the critique at this stage. The students’ querying of the critique format illustrates that, in this group of students’ opinion, the critique has a role but not in its present form.

Is the critique a valid tool for undergraduate architectural education today?

The study revealed the shadow of the critique’s foundation within a positivist epistemology.  Engrained paradigmatic assumptions left the hierarchy of the seating arrangement and a degree of tutor focus unquestioned. These ghosts have an overriding impact on experience as Webster reported.

The apparent impotence of the present day critique seems not only due to its loss of summative assessment. The positivist based critique utilised fear as a motivating force, using extrinsic motivation to keep students involved all day. A cultural shift from the acceptance of such methods has had a significant impact on the power of the critique. The findings suggest that the critique format alone still generates anxiety to an extent, but insufficient to make students stay for other students critiques. The critique can therefore often turn into something more akin to a tutorial. Intrinsic motivation needs to be harnessed to engage students in the discussion as equals alongside the critics.

The levels of anxiety the critique format provokes and the impact this has on practically all other elements cited in the literature seems sufficient cause to find the critique invalid. Anxiety must be removed in order to develop a Level 3 approach; anxiety generates a type x learning climate, leading students to become defensive (Biggs & Tang 2007). Defensive attitudes generated instantly bar the airing of errors, limiting the effectiveness of feedback. Anxiety did not stop students in this explorative study from recalling their feedback, the critique therefore was successful in provided a level of formative feedback. The point is however that it could be much more successful.

The desire shown in the study for greater peer feedback echoes the literature whilst also revealing a potential level of the transmission mode of teaching, which must be addressed. Indoctrination, transmission teaching and regurgitation of a “stock of acceptable beliefs” (Brookfield 1995, p.14) are far from the aim, and have little place in meeting intended learning outcomes. Brookfield relates “The ways in which we encourage or inhibit students questions, the kinds of reward systems we create, and the degree of attention we pay to student concerns all create a moral tone and political culture” (Brookfield 1995, p.26). The critique seen in these terms suggests a wider damaging influence on culture of the profession.

Time constraints limited student involvement at the critiques but to an extent this can also be seen as revealing a prioritising of tutor over peer feedback. A certain amount of time is clearly required in order to provide valuable formative feedback. This initial study suggests that the twenty minutes available for each student at these critiques was insufficient to allow for sufficient student discussion in some cases. Time constraints, group size and the number of critics are clearly influential on the validity of a critique as a tool for formative feedback.

This explorative study suggests that the critique is not a valid tool for undergraduate architectural education in its current form and is presently inappropriate for a constructivist approach. The nature of the critique and its outcomes do not appear to be well aligned with the intended learning outcomes, echoing Webster (2006b). Biggs asserts the need for assessment practices to “send the right signals to students about what they should be learning” (2003, p.140) and the critique format seems to be suggesting the prioritisation of visual and verbal communication over design.


The research questions I posed were deliberately broad, and focusing could arguably have produced a more insightful study, however this was never the aim of this initial explorative study. The next step in the research is to utilise the findings to form the basis for a larger investigation within my own studio. With access to a far longer time frame I intend to work with the action research spiral in order to investigate the potential of changes to the critique suggested by this initial study. Although I have misgivings about the critique, the QAA benchmark statement still holds it as central to architectural pedagogy and so a way forward is required which will enable the reality to live up to the expectations. The proposal for the next stage of the research will now be discussed.

It was found that engrained paradigmatic assumptions, the aspects of the critique that are taken for granted and left unquestioned due to their familiarity, appear to generate power imbalances between the critique participants, most notably between critics and student. The present critique format is therefore inappropriate for a constructivist approach. The literature suggests student presentation, of which the critique is a form, as a good method for assessing functioning knowledge, offering strong learning opportunities due to its mirroring of professional practice and engagement of both tutors and students (Biggs & Tang 2007). The positive aspects of a critique cited by Schön, Blair et al, which sound so ideally suited to a constructivist approach are hard to access. The tradition of the critique draws on positivist epistemology and the transmission model, where the tutor is the focus minimising peer feedback (Yanar 1999). The apparent opportunity for valuable peer assessment and discussion of the assessment criteria is therefore misleading. The students’ often positive reflections on the critique do however suggest that the potential can be glimpsed, but is still largely negated by continuation of critique traditions drawn from a positivist root. This is one aspect for the next stage of the research to address, one of the right questions to ask.

Recommendations for a new form of review process can be made, but unless the underlying paradigmatic assumptions engrained into architectural education are directly challenged the silent continuation of the historic critique will be ensured. Increasing awareness of the historic roots of critique practice would make the need for reform self-evident. Without this such understanding the difference between stated aims and practice found by Webster would undoubtedly continue.

The critique has also been criticised in the literature for inciting anxiety both during and preceding assessment, limiting deep learning and productive feedback (Webster 2006b, 2007; Blair 2006). Such anxiety can cause extrinsic motivation, where fear of negative feedback leads to low levels of learning (Biggs & Tang 2007). It is questionable the extent to which the critique mimics professional practice, and due to the anxiety generated whether it is therefore a valid learning tool in this form. Client presentations rarely involve more than a few people and Blair concurs with this in her work (2006). The historical arrangement of a student stood in front of a seated panel alone appears to minimise potential learning benefits and the literature qualifies these findings (Blair 2006), (Orr, Blythman & Blair 2007). The more informal setting proposed by some students in this study seem potentially beneficial to all. Percy’s study of an on-line critique found this reduced the power imbalance and gave a more productive experience, although extreme this begins to ratify such changes (Percy 2004). The defensive attitude anxiety can generate also hides problems, limiting the effectiveness of feedback, however this did not arise as a major issue within this initial study. This is therefore a point the future research will assess further.

The study illustrated that the effects of anxiety on understanding and recollection can be partially addressed through the presence of student scribes and the use of written feedback sheets. Feedback is part of the answer, presently however it appears to be shoring up the failings of the critique. The aim should be rather to address the underlying issues and generate a learning environment more conducive to deep learning, with feedback therefore more effective and valuable. A deeper understanding of the impact of the critique on retention of feedback and its value as a tool for providing formative feedback is another area future research will address.

This initial study also suggests that the critique generated anxiety and both extrinsic and achievement motivation, leading to surface learning through the prioritisation of graphic communication over design. The critique itself appears to unduly prioritise learning outcomes associated with communication with strong graphics overly influential on assessment. This appears to influence student priorities with the skilled use of 3D visualisation programmes being seen as a means of achieving a high grade, and causing a transference from deep learning to a strategic or achieving approach (Biggs & Tang 2007). The assessment task must “send the right signals to students about what they should be learning and how they should be learning it.” (Biggs & Tang 2007, p.163) and Ramsden (1992) stated, “from our students point of view assessment always defines the actual curriculum”. An important element of the next stage of the research will therefore to questioning whether the critique is indeed prioritising communication, and if so to trial methods to combat this.

The formative assessment at the critique focuses on one project, whereas the summative assessment takes the form of a portfolio providing an overview of the year’s work. The portfolio may therefore highlight issues not clearly apparent in a lone project. An overriding concern voiced by the students interviewed about the value of the final critique prior to the summative assessment illustrates a lack of constructive alignment between formative and summative assessment. A final formative assessment more closely reflecting the summative assessment of a portfolio would begin to address this. A review based on a social-constructivist perspective of assessment which aims to offer students a view of the assessment process that will take place at the end of the year, (and understanding of the weighting of the different criteria) would be a good starting point. Through this format students would be able to engage with tutors in discussion of the work in relation to the assessment criteria.

A new format drawn from the findings of this study will be initially trialled in the coming academic year. The initial format this will take, entitled review to remove historic associations, removes the hierarchical arrangement of participants, a positivist remnant, to redress power imbalances and anxiety. The group will therefore be seated in an arch or around a table dependent on the nature of the work, as recommended by Orr, Blythman Blair (2007). Such an arrangement would also alleviate the distraction of students unengaged with the activity.  Tutors will be positioned within this audience to further change the power balance and encourage peer feedback (Shreeve, Wareing, Drew 2009). The group size itself will also be reduced to lower anxiety levels (Blair 2006) through running two consecutive sessions, with students self-selecting which discussion they wish to play a part in. The session will begin with an introduction to the form of the review and the roles of the tutors, followed by a peer discussion of the assessment criteria, acting to lower presentation anxiety through building students trust in the environment. “The right climate for encouraging creativity is one where the students can feel they can take risks ….without being ridiculed either by the teacher or other students” (Biggs, Tang 2007 p.147). An awareness of the potential presence of transmission teaching in the critique process will mediate instinctive reasoning for the tutor to “take the role of expert” (Shreeve, Wareing, Drew 2009), adjusting the focus to peer feedback. A student will chair the review to assist with this goal (Orr, Blythman, Blair 2007).

The aim is that the learning environment generated will be more conducive to deep learning, with feedback more effective and valuable. The literature review will inform this work, but to paraphrase Brookfield, the answer does not lie out there fully formed, it must be “sculpted to fit the local conditions in which we work.” (Brookfield 1995, p.19).



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Sarah Stevens

Dr Sarah Stevens is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, Third Year Design Module Leader and an undergraduate Design Unit Leader. A registered architect with eight years experience in private practice she began teaching in the design studio in 2005 as a postgraduate design tutor, and was invited to start her own undergraduate design unit in 2007. Sarah was appointed Third Year Design Module Leader in 2010, and since 2007 she has been a design examiner for the RIBA Office Based Exams.

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