Cohorts: A Strategy For Affective Peer Critique
Helen Turner | University of Kentucky
Joseph Rey-Barreau | University of Kentucky
Overview: In design education and practice the ability to collaborate and communicate is critical. As a result, formal and informal review of work is often foundational to design programs and courses. However, the traditional master-apprentice model, and the means by which these reviews are often conducted, can be antithetical to student learning and to the needs of contemporary professional practice. Conversely, educational and communication theory reveals higher levels of learning and effectiveness associated with the affective domain, which is reinforced by peer-to-peer engagement (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Faculty members developed an affective peer critique method based on receiving, responding, valuing, organizing, and characterizing to consider how students can become primary participants and active producers of feedback in the critique process, resulting in enhanced student confidence, motivation, and attitude.
Level: Centered on peer review and engagement, rather than faculty-led activities or student aptitude, this peer critique method is appropriate for all levels of collegiate learning, and is specifically suited to project-based courses that rely on formal and/or informal sessions of critique.
Duration: To ensure a systematic process and experience, implementation is recommended at various points throughout a semester or class, allowing students to become familiar and comfortable with the process while developing a unique perspective and voice. Allotted time can vary according to project phase or desired outcome; time could be minimal, for example, when the process is used for developing initial and iterative ideas, but longer when more formal and detailed development is necessary.
- Help students engage and progress through the levels of the affective domain
- Enhance student social, emotional, and affective skills associated with active listening and communication as well as critical thinking and analysis
- Develop students as generators, not just consumers, of critique while providing experience in receiving and reflecting on critical feedback
- Cultivate critical and communicative identities suited to contemporary professional practice
Using traditions of design education linked to the Ecole de Beaux Arts and Bauhaus philosophies, faculty members and professionals often ask students to communicate ideas and solutions in a visual and oral format for evaluation and feedback (Anthony, 1991; Cret, 1941; Simon, 1996). Within this process, for which neither faculty or students are typically trained (Anthony, 1991; Percy, 2004), faculty tend to repeat their own educational experiences, while students often experience stress and, as a result, reduced success with self-learning (Anthony, 1991; Cameron, 2003; Megahed, 2018; Scagnetti, 2017).
While some studies indicate that students understand the value and potential learning fundamental to critiques (Megahed, 2018; Smith, 2011; Thiessen, 2017), research also reveals that students perceive instructors as role models but peers as “collaborators and colleagues with shared interests and aptitudes” (Schrand & Eliason, 2012, 60). Further, because accepting or applying criticism is distinct from doing criticism (Thiessen, 2017), involving students in peer critique can promote critical reflection and thinking (Nicol et al., 2014), while providing opportunity for development of unique communicative and collaborative identities (Dannels & Martin, 2008). In this regard, student involvement in the critique process has the potential to maximize student satisfaction and learning (Megahed, 2018), leading to increased student engagement, higher-level discussion, and increased comprehension of feedback (Smith, 2011; White, 2000).
Educational theory and research also indicates that peer critique strongly reinforces higher forms of thinking associated with the cognitive domain (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). In addition, by integrating emotion and reason, students can activate the affective domain through receiving, responding, valuing, organizing, and characterizing.
Figure 1: Levels of the Affective Domain of Learning with definitions and associated behaviors
Created by Author with reference to Jackson, 2006; Myers & Goodboy, 2015.
Often associated with social, emotional, and affective (SEA) dimensions of development, these “soft skills” and levels of “emotional intelligence” are paramount to academic, career, and personal success (Bagshaw, 2000; Savitz-Romer et al., 2015). Specific to design education, Gelmez and Bagli (2018) indicate that “studies focusing on the affective, or emotional, aspects of design learning in contexts of design education stress the significance of affective processes, and inform us in particular of the connection between the creative dimension and emotions emerging during a design activity” (p. 1064). Hence, by engaging both the cognitive and affective domain through peer critique, students can more effectively and emotionally engage with the process by thinking critically about their work as well as the work of peers (Dannels et al., 2008; Miceli & Zeeng, 2017; Theissen, 2017).
Recognizing the capacity of critiques and peer critique, two educators sought to develop students and future practitioners as generators, not just consumers, of critique. Utilizing research on peer feedback and reflecting design practice, wherein a professional designer is more likely to engage team members for feedback than the principal, a peer-to-peer method was formalized to encourage critical engagement and confidence in individual thoughts, skills, and professionalism. The integration of peer critique was initially conducted in a fourth-year studio (40 students). Positive results inspired exploration of similar methods in a first-year studio (35 students). Although centered on different projects and intents, students in both studios participated in peer critiques throughout the semester with instructors as a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage” (King, 1993).
Students began the studio by receiving information about the peer critique process. They were informed that, similar to what they would experience in a professional office, they would not only be discussing their work with peers but also critiquing their peers’ work. To accomplish this, students were given instruction and recommendations on giving feedback, beyond commentary on aesthetics or personal opinion, and on effectively engaging in critiques. The students were then organized into “cohort groups,” each of which was comprised of four to five students whose projects focused on similar themes (project type, theory, location, or scope) and served as the foundation for critique sessions.
Cohort critique sessions were scheduled at strategic points throughout the semester, with more frequent sessions during early phases of design when greater levels of iteration and development are required (Figure 2). Faculty did not participate in the cohorts, but were available to provide clarification or answers to overarching questions. For consistency, however, sessions of faculty critique and formal reviews were interspersed amongst the cohort sessions, allowing students to prepare for formal reviews and discuss prior feedback or ideas that could enhance project development.
Figure 2: Sample class schedule including cohort sessions and faculty-led reviews
In each cohort session every student acted in two roles: presenter of their own work and reviewer of peers’ work.
As presenters, students were asked to rate each cohort member following presentation of their work (Figure 3). To ensure responding and to elicit participation and meaningful feedback, faculty provided reviewers with prompts on review sheets for recording feedback; these were shared verbally but were also checked by faculty, then given to the student presenters for project development (Figure 4). Both the ratings and recorded responses were tracked throughout the semester and incorporated as a component of the comprehensive grade for the course.
Students were instructed that a critique session should provide each peer approximately 30 minutes to present and receive feedback. Once students began valuing the process they also transitioned to organizing their experience by becoming more invested, adhering to instruction, and accepting responsibility. As cohort meetings became an anticipated experience, students needed less prompting to engage, and meetings would often run longer than the time allotted, with groups even requesting additional time to continue discussion.
Following the framework of Stephens and Ormandy (2019), studying affective development in nursing education, and the methods of analysis used by Osborne and Crow (2018)[se1] , faculty examined self-reported responses for affective words and adjectives to determine levels of affective learning reached. Throughout the semester, faculty asked students to provide their perceptions of the peer critique experience, which faculty analyzed to identify characterizing, a value system being developed, through language related to the peer critique process. Positive emotional responses indicated initial levels were reached, but higher levels were indicated by changes in behavior, attitude, or perspective. The highest levels were reached when students classified the process as rewarding or corresponding to their values.
Figure 3: Likert scale and criteria used by presenter to rate peers during cohort sessions
(would be multiplied depending on number of students in a cohort group)
Figure 4: Review sheet used by peers during a first-year cohort session.
Similar to the studies of Megahed (2018), student involvement and participation in the cohort groups and peer critique process elicited positive and enthusiastic feedback. After the initial cohort session, students were asked: “How do you feel about peer reviews?” While some (16%) indicated apprehension, a majority (40%) considered the process beneficial or important, while others (16%) were indifferent or comfortable with the process on account of prior experience. One student reported negative feelings, and the rest (20%) provided thoughts on the studio overall, but not specifically on the peer critiques.
I have really enjoyed the peer review because not only do you get feedback from others about your work but get to look at peers work and comment on it.
It makes me a little nervous having my peers review my work but I know its super important to get feedback and give feedback. I think it’ll help us all grow as designers.
Additional surveys revealed that the peer critique process had a major impact on the individual and collective student experience. Students indicated that receiving and providing regular peer feedback enhanced interest in their own work as well as the work of peers. In line with research on peer feedback (Dannels et al., 2008; Nicol et al., 2014; White, 2000), providing an opportunity for students to evaluate peer feedback on their own work and conversely, provide feedback for their peers also revealed critical thinking. For example, the following are some of the written comments from a review sheet collected after a first-year cohort session during schematic design.
Ability to articulate and explain design choices, concept is strong throughout, some of the spaces seem a little too small especially for family.
3D partis are very effective in telling her story of unification, perspectives really help explain the floorplan, mood boards are very similar – could have differentiated more, there may be too many rooms trying to fit in one space.
Beyond student impact, faculty realized that an affective peer critique framework does not eliminate or diminish the educator role. Instead, they must “move away from being the one who has all the answers and does most of the talking toward being a facilitator who orchestrates the context, provides resources, and poses questions to stimulate students to think up their own answers” (King, 1993, p. 30). Placing students at the center of thinking and discussing ideas engages them in active processing of information, which will ultimately help them produce new and personally meaningful knowledge and ensure that they are more likely to be successful at recall and application (King, 1993). In the same way, capitalizing on the affective responses inherent in peer critique has the potential to engender students as agents of their own work as well as proponents of their peers’ work, resulting in collaborative and communicative future practitioners.
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