Grading from the bottom-up: Looking at what design students learn, not what they make

talk – 20 min | Feb 3 – 12:00

Letter grades have long been a problem in design education. Design activity often does not fit neatly into the traditional A–F grading scale, where there are distinctly right and wrong answers. Victor Papenak told us this almost 40 years ago in “Design for the Real World;” he said: “Design, as a problem-solving activity can never, by definition, yield one right answer: it will always produce an infinite number of answers, some ‘righter’ and some ‘wronger.’” With this in mind, design educators need to reconsider what role grading or, more broadly, assessment, has in contemporary education. If there are no right or wrong answers, how can we assign a grade to a student’s work? Of course, there are some basics for which we can easily assign quality. For example, the traditional elements of visual design (hierarchy, balance, color contrast) and implementation of platform or OS standards. However, there are many other factors at play that dictate the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of a solution. These are things that often get overlooked when considering a “final” solution and include. For example, a student’s incoming baseline ability, the complexity of design constraints, the fuzziness of problem contexts, multidisciplinary and collaborative group dynamics, instructor learning objectives for the activity, and, I would argue, the unique factors of a student’s life outside school. These factors all contribute to a student’s performance and, perhaps more importantly, their learning outcomes in a project. In this presentation, I will outline a new assessment methodology that design educators can use to assess learning better and still consider the complexities of contemporary student life. Tactics, processes, and resources will be shared that educators within any educational context can begin using to adopt a more inclusive approach to grading.

Aaron Ganci

Aaron Ganci
Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, United States

About the speaker

Aaron Ganci

Aaron Ganci

Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, United States
Aaron Ganci, MFA is a user experience and interface designer and an Associate Professor of Visual Communication Design at Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University, IUPUI. He is a frequent consultant on the design of websites and software interfaces in the healthcare, public health, financial, and energy sectors. More than 100 million people have used a product that he has designed. In addition to professional creative activity, Professor Ganci teaches a range of courses in user experience design, user interface design, service design, AR prototyping, and a variety of graphic design topics. He also researches contemporary design practice, technology use in American culture, and the use of technology to personalize design artifacts.

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