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Artfully Assessing Artwork in Art and Design

Photo: Paul Clark

Project Holder: Susan Orr
Institution: York St. John University

Quality Enhancement and Assessment

Not enough is known about how art and design lecturers make judgments about student artwork. Whilst there has been a proliferation of written learning outcomes and assessment criteria there is very little research that identifies how these are used / interpreted / ignored when lecturers assign grades to artwork.

The aim of this project was to explore how art and design lecturers approach marking and feedback. This study aimed to identify the extent to which lecturers used personalised and / or tacit criteria.

This project investigated the decision-making and feedback processes associated with grading undergraduate studio practice in art and design. Our key research question was:

How do art and design lecturers make judgements, assign grades and feedback on students’ artwork?

As a result of the National Student Survey results there is sector concern about assessment and student feedback.  At its simplest, this has focused on trying to identify ways to give students ‘more feedback’. This focus on ‘more’ ignores the ways that feedback is rooted in pedagogy. Work by Nicol (2008) suggests that we need to look at the ways feedback can support learning. We need to research feedback – rather than just trying to give students more of it.

Successive UUK, QAA and NSS reports have identified problems with assessment in UK Universities. In the QAA Art and Design Subject Review Overview Report, assessment was highlighted as an area of particular concern (QAA, 2001). In many cases the ‘problem’ of assessment has been addressed by generating ‘clearer’ learning outcomes and more detailed assessment criteria (Orr and Blythman, 2005). Interestingly, there is little research that explores how the learning outcomes (LO) and assessment criteria (AC, henceforth referred to as LO/AC) are actually used by lecturers when they assess. Research that does exist suggests that LO/AC are not used as might be expected. For example, Hawe (2003) identifies that some lecturers do not use these documents when marking – instead they personalise assessment. Hand and Clewes (2000) identified that, in some cases, marking practices are informed by everything but the LO/AC. Sadler’s recent work (2009) points to assessors using holistic marking approaches – in his view this approach is adopted due to the indeterminacy of the LO/AC. The very nature of judgment making in the context of creative practice is complex and elusive but this does not mean it is un-researchable (Cannatella, 2001; Orr, 2007; Blair 2008; Kumar 2004).

Professor Susan Orr was formerly Deputy Dean, Faculty of Arts, York St John University and in September 2011 took up the post of Assistant Dean, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Science, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Listing and Main photo: Paul Clark. Painting studio, University of Brighton