EAAE Workshop: Judging from A Distance: Observations and Provocations Towards Inclusive Online Design Feedback and Assessment Practices

  • We use the 6-S Framework to reflect on our recent experiences participating in final portfolio presentations across four continents and several institutions. 
  • We share our observations and formulate provocations, for each of the six inclusive contexts.
  • Through this exploration, we suggest durable and sustainable strategies for radically inclusive feedback and assessment practices in a post-pandemic world.
  • We open it up to your obserations, scholarship and provocations in the Comments

INTRODUCTION

As the signature pedagogy for architectural and design education, the studio must respond to contemporary conditions and challenges, through transformation that considers a radically inclusive approach to learning. This research builds on the authors’ current work in progress towards a radically inclusive studio (https://theradicallyinclusivestudio.org/). Drawing on Williams et al.’s (2005) Inclusive Excellence framework, we formulated a 6-S Framework for Inclusive Contexts (Delport et al., 2020). In the ‘Judging from a Distance’ workshop, we used the 6-S Framework to reflect on our recent experiences in final portfolio conversations across four continents and several institutions. 

We recognise that the languages and spaces of the traditional ’portfolio review’ is structured through power dynamics, this must be challenged. We deliberately try to steer away from the legal language which contextualises ‘portfolio reviews’.  Words like ‘judge’ and ‘jury’ have connotations of ‘a trial, or a judgement, or a punishment’ (Metha, 2019:4) and evoke experiences that are ‘terrifying … (and) soul destroying’ (Raisbeck, 2016:1). We therefore refer to ‘portfolio conversation’. Portfolio is an inherent architecture and design concept and refers to a body of work, whether one project or many. Conversation implies an exchange of ideas, whether synchronously or asynchronously, in an open, inclusive, and amicable space.

In the ‘Judging from a Distance’ workshop, we employed a  methodology of inclusivity by inviting workshop participants to contribute to the discussion, prompted by our own shared observations. Their inputs were provided through the chat and by recording verbal comments and written thoughts in a collective Miro (white) board.

In this paper, we present our research development which led to our participation in the workshop and then use the 6-S Framework to reflect on final portfolio conversations. In the reflection, we present our own experiences and include the comments by  the workshop participants. We conclude with an observation that of the 6-S Contexts, Spatial Inclusive Context provoked the richest and most productive conversation.

BACKGROUND 

We are four academics from three continents. We met in May 2020 during an online conference, TEACHING ARCHITECTURE ONLINE: METHODS AND OUTCOMES (Gorman, 2020.; Morkel and Delport, 2020.). Our work resonated, and we worked together on a project entitled: THE RADICALLY INCLUSIVE STUDIO: an open access conversation on radically inclusive practices in the architectural design studio, which forms the background to our subsequent research. We submitted part of this research as a chapter to The Routledge Companion to Architecture Pedagogies of the Global South, edited by Prof. Harriet Harris, Prof. Ashraf Salama, and Ane Gonzalez Lara. It will be published later in 2021. Our research has been developing through collaborative online discussions in which we share, and interrogate ideas. In our work we recognise the differences and similarities in our contexts that are visible in the composition of student bodies, staffing and resources, as well as the need to address social justice, and the call for decolonised curricula.

The sudden pivot of the architecture and design studio from onground to online learning settings was rapid and turned the familiar educational world upside down. Likewise, we believe that ‘traditional’ pedagogy needs a dramatic shift to become more inclusive, whether online or onground. The studio is often associated with problems related to socialisation, asymmetrical power relations, the mental health of students caused by stress and workload, and a degree of ritualised teaching practices, and in online spaces specifically, aspects of social presence, authenticity, and embodiment. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we recognised a shift in educational approaches and practices.  This shift fostered a culture of collaboration and care, and an exploration of alternative methods and modes, but it also amplified existing inequalities, inequities and exclusions (Mathiba, 2020). This was the perfect opportunity to challenge the signature pedagogy (Shulman, 2005) of the studio towards a radically inclusive studio that is responsive, resilient and relevant. 

In the workshop presentation and in this paper, we consider the impact of moving the portfolio conversations online, and how this has highlighted the existing structural biases. We ask how we can: enable immersive experiences; practice deeper listening; provide more meaningful feedback; and facilitate open cultural sharing with globally diverse voices. We investigate how moving online has allowed us to reconsider the portfolio conversation as a space to collaborate and address the hierarchies between students, academics and external guests. 

THE 6-S FRAMEWORK AND THE FINAL PORTFOLIO CONVERSATION 

The 6-S Framework includes systemic, structural, support, social justice, symbolic and spatial inclusive contexts (Delport et al., 2020). Using the 6-S Framework to reflect on portfolio conversations, we suggest durable and sustainable strategies for radically inclusive feedback and assessment practices.

The Systemic Inclusive Context references our capacity to respond in real time, to a changing global context, and existing and new barriers within academia and the profession. In portfolio conversations, we experienced open, global exchanges that allowed multiple ways to share feedback and reward projects. We suggest that inclusivity can be enhanced by revisiting our marking system. Expand rubrics, to include, for example, social and environmental justice, and do not  focus only on visually dominant work. From comments in the workshop it was clear others also experienced the ease of including external participants in the portfolio presentations and the value that this brings to the conversations. 

In the Structural Inclusive Context, adaptability and flexibility are foregrounded as the underpinning conditions for transformative practices. In a Structural Inclusive Conversation, remain flexible and co-design the review with students and give them choices. Ask how they would like to share and receive feedback on their work. In what space? For how many guests? Would they prefer written, live or pre-recorded feedback? Allow students to do self-assessment through completing a rubric. Use asynchronous immersive environments to emotionally enter a project before offering constructive criticism. 

Workshop participants presented practical examples of creating structurally inclusive conversations. These included giving time for all conversation participants to study the work beforehand, give comments, reflect and possibly pose questions. This approach gives the student time to reset, rest  and prepare before the conversation. Workshop participants commented that the amount of support time spent transitioning students online was significant, but that the online space and difference in time zones made marking for tutors more flexible. 

The Support Inclusive Context reminds us that it is essential for students to be placed at the centre, to ensure their collective mental health and well-being. In recent portfolio conversations, we all experienced real empathy and support for students, way beyond the norm before COVID. Ways to support students included asking for permission before giving feedback and framing what you will be giving feedback on. During the workshop participants mentioned support mechanisms, from receiving extended time, to participating in practice conversations to put students at ease. A very constructive suggestion was to intentionally structure feedback during presentations by first offering what was exciting or meaningful in the student’s presentation, and to then go into suggestions and a discussion of problematic areas. 

The Social Justice Inclusive Context foregrounds the necessity to implement a decolonised curriculum that challenges the roots of oppression and injustice. The global portfolio conversation format opens the review beyond the holds of a homogenous design jury of a home institute. It allows a diversity of voices to come to the table and opens a dialogue. Language used should be focused on productive feedback and collaboration, not oppression and legality. 

In terms of social justice, workshop participants remarked that in deciding on aspects such as whether a student should keep their camera on, there are cultural and gender aspects to consider. In terms of assessment, the extensive use of social media or the online platform used could compromise student confidentiality and  could easily become public knowledge. Care should be taken to consider the impact of decisions which could unintentionally ‘expose’ students. 

Through the Symbolic Inclusive Context, we recognise that architecture and design education is a producer of culture and has the unique potential to communicate through representation. In the online portfolio conversations, the essence of the ‘jury’ as a cultural marker of architectural education has been challenged, which is a significant move. Could this lead to changes in studio culture as well? During the workshop, the UCD School of Architecture, Planning & Environmental Policy explained that they revised and expanded their reference list. Emphasis is placed on the study of reference projects in the development of the students’ design process. UCD feels that it is important to be inclusive and open to change in all aspects of the studio, not only in the approach to pedagogy. 

Finally, through consideration of the Spatial Inclusive Context, we recognise that exclusionary boundaries, such as geography, time, knowledge practices and power relations, should be transcended (Delport et al., 2020). We experienced that the online conversations breaks down the spatial hierarchies (‘jury’ seated in rows facing the student). However, the online space may disadvantage students who have connectivity problems, or unsuitable spaces to connect from. Careful consideration of the online format is necessary to ensure spatial connection and navigation between students and staff and the ease of ‘viewing’ submissions. The Spatial Inclusive Context evoked interesting discussions on the Miro Board. Various participants advocated the use of whiteboard spaces which allows an infinite wall space on which students can present all their work in a very similar fashion to a physical pin-up. The comment was made that the process is still not the same as the physical, i.e. it is not both spatial and social simultaneously. Aspects such as co-construction of knowledge, the messiness, get lost. Also, how students learn through comparison and informal chats is lost. And it is not possible to go  to the pub with guests after the portfolio presentation.

A discussion around the ‘hiding’ of students in online spaces prompted various responses. Some participants felt that students who hide stay ‘lost’, whilst others commented that hiding (for instance with the camera off) might make students more comfortable. With the camera off, the power structure is flipped and this might address the issue of students feeling put on the spot, it might allow them time to absorb the discussion and then comment when they are ready. One participant remarked that it is a refreshing alternative to the in-person review where a student has very little opportunity to retreat if feeling vulnerable.

CONCLUSION

COVID-19 has revealed previously existing barriers that provoked a global rethink to challenge the norms of the in-person design studio and portfolio conversations. Ideally, students are able to co-design the review with academic staff, thereby positively shifting the power dynamics. 

We found that the 6-S Framework provided a useful lens for the exploration of the theme “Judging from a Distance”. Of the six contexts, the Spatial Inclusive Context provoked the richest and most productive conversation. We found this significant considering that this context was the one which we contributed to the 6-S Framework, drawing on Williams et al’s work (2005).

References

Delport, H., Burton L.O., Morkel, J., Gorman, M. 2020. Inclusive Spatial Practices for Professional Education: exploring the architectural design studio. Conference presentation, HELTASA Conference, 30 Nov – 3 Dec 2020.

Gorman, M. (2020). Creating a Virtual Commons. Online presentation for the Seminar Teaching architecture online 2. Methods and outcomes, 22 May 2020. Available at: https://youtu.be/q5y6puwYFng  (Accessed: 31 May 2020).

Mathiba, G. 2020. Covid-19 and South African universities: A raft of problems to ponder. Daily Maverick. Available at: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-04-09-covid-19-and-south-african-universities-a-raft-of-problems-to-ponder/ (Accessed 2 August 2020).

Metha, N. 2019. Dear Design Students: Here are 10 tips for your upcoming jury. Nidhip Metha. Available at: https://medium.com/@nidhipmehta/dear-design-students-here-are-10-tips-for-your-upcoming-jury-fcb5e49991b9 (Accessed 10 May 2021).

Morkel, J. and Delport, H. (2020). Responsive Ecosystems for Architectural Education. Online presentation for the Seminar Teaching architecture online 2. Methods and outcomes, 22 May 2020. Available at: https://youtu.be/q5y6puwYFng (Accessed: 31 May 2020).

Raisbeck, P. 2016. Surviving a design jury presentation: The essential guide. Peter Raisbeck: surviving the design studio. (Accessed 10 May 2021).

https://peterraisbeck.com/2016/04/12/surviving-a-design-jury-presentation-the-essential-guide/

Shulman, L. S. 2005. ‘Signature pedagogies in the professions’, Daedalus, 134(3), pp.52-59.

Williams, D. A., Berger, J. B., & McClendon, S. A. (2005). Toward a model of inclusive excellence and change in postsecondary institutions. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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