Recipe: Online final design reviews

Jolanda Morkel, Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa
Jo Berben, Faculty of Architecture and Arts, Hasselt University, Belgium
Steven Feast, Architecture and Interior Architecture, School of Design and the Built Environment, Curtin University, Australia

Introduction

The final design review, also known as the portfolio review or design jury, is a well-established but widely contested practice in architecture and design education (Anthony, 1991; Dannels, 2005; Lymer, 2009; Marie & Grindle, 2014; Oh et al., 2013; Webster, 2007). It is a prominent summative assessment tradition for students to showcase and defend their final design projects, for design tutors to celebrate their teaching results, to inspire and motivate fellow students and to benchmark academic standards. Grading and feedback are provided by internal and external critics or jury panel members, including local and external academics and professionals (Murphy et al., 2012). At some universities, other stakeholders like community representatives are also sometimes invited to serve on the panel of critics or the jury. 

Based on current international online conversations among architecture and design faculty, it appears that those who have access to digital platforms are coping reasonably well with the temporary transition to online learning and teaching in response to the Covid-19 crisis (Marshalsey, 2020). However, the upcoming assessment period is being met with unease and apprehension by those faculty and staff who are not accustomed to online methodologies (Salmon, 2020). Care must, therefore, be taken to properly design online alternatives to limit stress and anxiety, to allow fairness without compromising academic standards, and to promote learning. 

Many architecture and design schools in the northern hemisphere are preparing for final assessments, but few examples of online final design review models exist. This recipe is the result of three colleagues based in Africa, Europe and Australia, thinking about how to ‘whip up’ the final review online, drawing on their collective experiences of onsite and online architecture education. Curtin University offers onsite and fully online Masters in architecture programs, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology presents a blended undergraduate architecture course with a prominent online component, and Hasselt University has recently moved their onsite Bachelors, Honours and Masters in architecture programs online in response to the pandemic situation. 

Online design education relies on the use of multiple synchronous and asynchronous digital technologies and tools. These must be employed through careful consideration of their respective affordances (Salmon, 2020). For example, when moving a final design review online, we suggest that the traditional onsite experience should not be replicated, for example, in a Zoom online session. Not only will this option be data-intensive (Stanford, 2020), but also tiring and overwhelming (Degges-White, 2020). Instead, we suggest that a suitable combination of synchronous and asynchronous onsite and online modes be employed to achieve the desired experiences and required outcomes. This move towards effective and durable online solutions rather than emergency remote teaching (ERT) (Hodges et al., 2020), suggests a shift from ‘contingency to sustainability’ – creating ‘the future in a situation of uncertainty’ (Salmon, 2020). Such a future may require a certain degree of flexibility to move between onsite and online modes, as the circumstances allow. 

This recipe is for a sandwich model comprising a synchronous online Review phase in between asynchronous  Pre-review and Post-review phases. The Review session takes the form of an online discussion, Q & A or interview, focusing on clarification and feedback, rather than a design presentation. Instead, the student’s work is submitted in a presentation bundle comprising drawings, text and video, prior to the online Review session. Should circumstances allow, the Review session can still be conducted onsite. If not, it can be hosted equally well online. In this case, the Pre-review and Post-review phases remain unchanged. The digital format of student submissions allows for onsite or online Reviews.

Serve to:
Architecture and Design faculty, critics and students

Time:
The overall time required will be comparable to onsite sessions, but time for planning and thorough preparation must also be considered

Cost: Low
Connection: Good
Bandwidth: Medium/High

Difficulty: Medium/High

Ingredients

  1. Asynchronous communication tools: email or online forums via google docs or an LMS (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, etc). 
  2. Synchronous communication tools: webinar tools e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, Jitsi Meet, BigBlueButton, Google Meet etc. for synchronous online discussion sessions.  When selecting the tools, consider university policies on security and intellectual property.
  3. Production and media sharing tools: StoryMaps, moviemaker, screencast-o-matic, Loom, voicethread, Camtasia etc. to produce presentation videos; and Instagram, issuu, Behance etc. to publicly share students’ work.

Preparation

  1. Design and plan an optimal workflow, and assign the different roles and responsibilities. The plan should include who communicates what to whom by when. Include a backup plan, for example, in case of connectivity problems, power outage or other technical problems. Assign moderators’ rights to more than one person, but make sure they know how to apply them. Involve students in the design and planning stage and encourage them to take the lead if university policy allows. 
  2. Compile a critic briefing pack. This can include written invitations to critics to participate, the study guide or syllabus, project brief documents, rubrics and assessment guidelines, student grades and mark sheets, a repository of student submissions, the link to the online Review session platform, with instructions, and a Review schedule. Consider whether it is possible, or desirable, to allow students to take the lead here too.
  3. Compile a student briefing pack. This can include guidelines for the online submission of work, required submission formats for the different components that form part of the presentation bundle (e.g. a thesis document, booklet or poster with high resolution renders of 300 DPI minimum, and a video), maximum file sizes, filename protocols and rubrics. It should explain how the online Review session will be conducted, explaining the roles, responsibilities and rules, as well as the online Review schedule. Students may want to set up a dry run to prepare for the online Review.
  4. Teachable moments. Online sessions dedicated to the development of specific skills necessary for this assessment method can be offered to students by faculty, fellow students or invited presenters. Topics may include, for example, how to develop a powerful narrative, using drawings only to do so, how to respond to trick questions, how to behave and perform in an interview, how to use online media and platforms, and critical thinking. 

Method

Pre-review (asynchronous)

Students submit work in digital format for faculty and critics to study in preparation of the online Review session

In the absence of a live presentation, student submissions should engage multimedia to clearly convey their design intent and process. They can draw inspiration from competition submission formats, like booklets or posters, supported by short (max duration should be specified, say 5 – 7 minutes) narrated presentations or videos. Video submissions can be any suitable combination of a narrated screencast or video, including photos or video of physical models, drawings etc. 

Students should submit their work well in advance as agreed with faculty, to allow the critics adequate time to study the material. Submission information including penalties for late or non-submissions etc. should be clear, agreed up front and guided by university policy. Digital work can be submitted on the LMS, Google Drive or another digital repository. Designated faculty should collect the files, collate them and share them with the critics. 

The critics, in turn, guided by clear rubrics, should peruse the student work in preparation for the upcoming Design Review. They may choose to assign a provisional mark or decide to leave the grading until the Review session. Whilst working through the student work, critics should record all comments and questions to direct at the students in the upcoming online design Review session. 

Review (synchronous)

Students, critics and faculty meet online to discuss the submitted work

Students meet critics and design tutors in an online webinar session (Bush, 2020) to respond to questions and comments, and to clarify where needed, using audio, screen-sharing, on-screen pointing and drawing. The use of the webcam can be limited to the start of the session when the introductions are made.

The session starts with the appointed moderator welcoming participants, explaining the timeframe and protocols. Students get, say, approximately 20 – 30 minutes each, starting with a 2-minute introduction and allowing 5-minute transitions in between. For example, a 2-hour session can accommodate five students. Short breaks in between sessions can be reserved for comfort breaks and marks discussions. Observers may use the chatbox for questions and comments and the session moderator can respond where needed. The moderator must make sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to engage and contribute, managing permissions of participants appropriately.

This online Review session can be recorded for quality assurance, record-keeping and educational purposes, if allowed by the university and if participants agree. Critics and design tutors finalise their marks, using a clear rubric, and record notes where needed. 

Post-review (synchronous or asynchronous)

Finalisation of marks, feedback on the review process and public display of student work

Critics and design tutors meet in breakout online spaces to clarify, compare observations and to discuss marks for finalisation and sign off. This process can also be conducted via email, on completion of the design Reviews.

Critics’ and students’ feedback on the review process and organisation can be invited through short online surveys, to inform future events. The online publication of student work can be via e-book tools or social media. Here, too, students can be invited to take the lead.

Variations 

  • This sandwich method allows the final design review to be switched reasonably easily between onsite and online modes, as demanded by the circumstances. A flexible approach can lead to more robust assessment design. If it is impossible for students, design tutors and critics to be in the same place at the same time, e.g. when students are based remotely, or during periods of social distancing, the final design Review can be conducted online as described above. Should it be uncertain whether an onsite final review will be possible, the same Preview stage and submission requirements as described above, can be followed. If circumstances change and a final design Review becomes possible and it is preferred onsite, students can verbally present their work bundles using projection. 
  • Students can share their work with their peers (or publicly via social media) prior to the Review stage, to invite asynchronous feedback to help them prepare for the Review. Public sharing of student work is subject to university rules and policy.
  • In times of crisis like the current Covid-19 pandemic, it might be necessary to adopt pass/ fail or outcomes achieved/ achieved well/ not yet achieved grading protocol instead of numerical grades. Depending on the context or circumstances, it may even be necessary to completely reconceptualise the assessment strategy and instruments.

References

Anthony, K.H. (1991) Design juries on trial: the renaissance of the design studio. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. 

Bush, L. (2020) An Online Teaching Survival Guide. Teaching Innovations and Practices. [online] Available at: https://lccteaching.myblog.arts.ac.uk/an-online-teaching-survival-guide/

Dannels, D. P. (2005) ‘Performing Tribal Rituals: A Genre Analysis of “Crits” in Design Studios’, Communication Education, Routledge, vol. 54, no. 2, pp. 136–160 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/03634520500213165.

Degges-White, S. (2020) Zoom Fatigue: Don’t Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy. Some ‘cheats’ to help you beat Zoom fatigue before it beats you. [Online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/202004/zoom-fatigue-dont-let-video-meetings-zap-your-energy

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T. and Bond. A. 2020.  The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Educause Review. [online] Available at: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning

Lymer, G. (2009) Demonstrating Professional Vision: The Work of Critique in Architectural Education, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 16:2, 145-171, DOI: 10.1080/10749030802590580

Marie, J. and Grindle, N. (2014) How Design Reviews Work in Architecture and Fine Art, Charrette, 1: 36-48.

Marshalsey, L. (2020) The preliminary successes and drawbacks of a turn to distance design studio learning. Distance Design Education. [online] Available at: https://distancedesigneducation.com/2020/04/24/the-preliminary-successes-and-drawbacks-of-a-turn-to-distance-design-studio-learning/

Murphy, K.M., Ivarsson, J., and Lymer, G. (2012) Embodied reasoning in architectural critique, Design Studies, Volume 33, Issue 6. Pages 530-556, ISSN 0142-694X [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2012.06.005

Oh, Y., Ishizaki, S., Gross, M. D. and Yi-Luen Do, E. (2013) A theoretical framework of design critiquing in architecture studios, Design Studies, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 302–325 [Online]. DOI: 10.1016/j.destud.2012.08.004

Salmon, G. (2020) Covid-19 is the pivot point for online learning. Whonke. [online] Available at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/covid-19-is-the-pivot-point-for-online-learning/?fbclid=IwAR3vxMkUXrOTwqqE2aVdeJghoNb3PIyGLVT2UsqBMS4heNUs8SFY5cQAiq4

Stanford, D. (2020) Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All | IDDblog: Instructional Design Tips, Advice, & Trends for Online & Distance Learning | Educational Technology and Online Course Design Help. [online] Available at: https://www.iddblog.org/videoconferencing-alternatives-how-low-bandwidth-teaching-will-save-us-all/

Webster, H. (2007) The Analytics of Power, Journal of Architectural Education 60(3), pp21-27. Doi:10.1111/j.1531-314X.2007.00092.x

Artwork by _mariana_art_ 

Published by Jolanda Morkel

Jolanda Morkel is a registered architect and senior lecturer in the Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town, South Africa. She championed the ground-breaking online CPUT BTech programme in Architectural Technology offered in collaboration with Open Architecture, as one of the South African Institute of Architects’ (SAIA) flagship transformation projects, and the first of its kind in Africa. Based on its success, new online Advanced Diplomas in Architectural Technology and Interior Design are being implemented at the CPUT from 2020. Jolanda regularly publishes, presents at conferences and facilitates workshops on studio-based learning, flexible, blended and online learning, technology-mediated and work-integrated learning experiences, learning design and design-thinking in Higher Education. Her doctoral research focuses on the student-tutor interaction in the live online critique.

5 thoughts on “Recipe: Online final design reviews

  1. Thorough work that will save us thinking time later. Thank you!
    2 comments:
    1. Particularly in the South African context, but possibly elsewhere, there may well be students who do not have acess to the range of digital media as assumed in this recipe. I know that some of my students are currently stranded in rural areas with only a cell phone and very limited airtime. But hopefully to be resolved before we come to the final reviews this year.
    2. During the asynchronous pre-review time the various critics will have much more time studying a student’s work than when meeting a student’s work on site and fresh. I expect they may thus note down many more questions than they might have come up with on the spot. Should the moderator be made aware of these and coordinate before the review session itself?

    Like

    1. Wilfried, these are two very good observations, thank you. Firstly, in response to your comment that some students may not have adequate data and connectivity: yes, they would obviously not be able to participate in the review process, and would have to be accommodated when allowed back on campus. Regarding the amount of preparation time: yes, more time will be required as we suggest in the recipe. However, the work allocation might be spread so that each student’s submission will be assigned to a specific critic to study in depth, while the other critics view only the presentation/narrated Powerpoint. Furthermore, there will be a time limit to the Review, whether onsite or online, and the critic will be informed prior to, and, if needed, be reminded during the session to keep to it. This is necessary to allow all students equal opportunity to engage with the critics.

      Like

      1. Question 2 related specifically to all critics together coming up with many questions each in their own preparation time, this altogether then adding up to more than can be accommodated during the limited review time. Thus my suggestion that moderator be made aware of number of questions before session starts, so as to direct or moderate the question time before it even starts.

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