Ian Thompson

  • Improving evaluation through learning journals within Art & Design

    Ian Thompson, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, University of the Arts, London

    Research seminar

    Themes: learning and teaching methods, assessment, skills development and lifelong learning, C and IT, supporting learners, managing change and innovation, departmental strategies

    This paper describes an ongoing research project, (since 2002) that aims to increase students’ levels of achievement by improving their abilities to reflect and evaluate.

    The project has been supported by an LSDA Action Research project, 2003-4, and by a University of the Arts, London, Teaching fellowship, 2004-5. The work has centred upon the Foundation Studies Course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, a one year Level 3 National Diploma FE Course within the University of Arts, London, with an annual cohort of around 620 students. We are now disseminating the results across the University.

    We are attempting to achieve this through the use of a learning tool called the ‘Thinktank’. The ‘Thinktank’ is a student owned A5 journal designed to encourage students to develop their evaluative practice, to help facilitate peer group learning and self assessment and to provide evidence of the learning process (as opposed to the product i.e. the painting, the sculpture, the design).

    Students are encouraged primarily to use writing to explore their ideas within their ‘Thinktank’. We are however also exploring different ways of using visual imagery within the ‘Thinktank’. This is raising many questions about how we use written language to describe imagery, particularly with reference to the assessment of student work.

    We have been constantly revising the form and delivery of the ‘Thinktank’ as our research has developed. Implementing these revisions on a course where 80% of the staff are visiting tutors on short contracts continues to present challenges.

    This year we have introduced an online ‘Thinktank’ (to operate within the University intranet) as well as a trial mobile phone pilot, as an attempt to respond to a diversity of learning styles. This recent work has led us to create extremely successful online discussion forums that attempt to create a parallel (virtual) space for peer group discussion. This combination of online and studio teaching is proving to engage the students in a higher level of evaluative practice. I would like to explore this further within the context of an ISL research seminar.

    The research and the development of the ‘Thinktank’ were carried out in focus groups with student and staff groups. We investigated the impact of prior student experience, student expectation, and the effect of language used within the course framework upon students’ ability to reflect and evaluate. We are continuing to trial and monitor new teaching methods that build upon the results of this investigation. We are building a log of ‘exemplar’ projects in order to help disseminate our successes.

    Relevant pedagogic material/research projects are continuing to inform the project, in particular:

    Writing PAD (Writing purposefully in Art & Design) HEFCE FDTL 4 Project, available from http://writing-pad.org/

    Brockbank A. and McGill I. (1998) Facilitating reflective learning in higher education, Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press

    Moon. J (1999)Learning Journals: A Handbook for Academics, Students and Professional Development, RoutledgeFalmer