honoriartist

Form and Function Grading: Don't Bogart that A

The designer must understand that form does not follow function nor does form follow a production process. For every use and for every production process there are innumerable equally attractive solutions. Eva Zeisel

I teach in a design foundations suite of courses. My fellow team-teacher asked how to incorporate aesthetics into Specs grading. He wanted to know how to determine the A grade for exemplary creative work in relation to work that simply satisfied all the specifications.

Alicia David and Peyton Glore compiled research on the importance of aesthetics to design education in a 2010 article called The Impact of Design and Aesthetics on Usability, Credibility, and Learning in an Online Environment.

Anderson (2009) suggests that the language commonly used to describe design by those in the technology field like “eye candy”, “skinning a design”, and “styling,” serves to limit the importance of visual design and separates aesthetics from usability. Are aesthetics and usability truly separate? There is a significant amount of research that supports the view that design, aesthetics and usability are inexorably linked (Alsudani & Casey, 2009; Fogg et al, 2003; Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Browñ, 2006; Norman, 2002; 2004; Tractinsky, Katz & Ikar, 2000; Tractinsky, 2006; Zhang, 2009). But how are they linked?
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy associated with art and beauty (Zhang, 2009) and is concerned with how individuals perceive objects or make judgments based upon information received as five human sensory inputs (Anderson, 2009). Aesthetics is also associated with affect, or mood, emotion, and feeling (Zhang, 2009). It is this perception and affective/emotional connection that make aesthetic concerns that much more important. Aesthetics essentially act as the bridge between a product and the user’s emotion and feeling.

PROBLEM: UNIFIED GRADING STRATEGY

All 5 teachers of the high enrollment foundations course agreed that grading a class of 100+ was a sticking point, especially how to make the 5 separate modules graded by different teachers have logical and meaningful continuity for the students. 

VISUALIZING STRUCTURES FOR GRADING 

During the break between semesters, I have been reading more on specs grading, design aesthetics, and mindfulness. In Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time by Linda B. Nilson page 82, a chart from Janis L. Miller's International Business Management course's grading system seems to provide a solid visualization for a grading system.

Visualization of a grading system in a pyramid structure with F at the bottom and stepping up to A at the top with criteria for the grade at each level. Illustration from L. Nilson's Specifications Grading, page 82.
Visualization of a grading system in a pyramid structure with F at the bottom and stepping up to A at the top with criteria for the grade at each level. Illustration from L. Nilson's Specifications Grading, page 82.

This model shows the dependencies as students level up in achievement. The model provides pass-fail criteria at each level. If a student passes a level, they can opt to move to the next level for a higher grade.

Bloom's model argues that, when given the proper learning environment and compared against standards of mastery in a field (rather than against one another), large numbers of students could succeed. This type of grading—where instructional goals form the basis of comparison—is called “criterion-referenced” grading (Brookhart, 2004 p. 72). from Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently) by  Jeffrey Schinske and Kimberly Tanner. 

How do you build the criteria to align with Bloom's Levels?  I found an interesting example in the web search for Bloom's level assessment criteria in the field of cannabis education.  The article How much do you know about cannabis?: Applying Bloom's Taxonomy to Cannabis Education by Anne-Marie Fischer asks the questions: 

How much do you as a cannabis entrepreneur know about cannabis, how much does everyone on the supply chain know about cannabis, how much do prescribing doctors know about cannabis, and most importantly, what does the end user know about cannabis?

With that introduction, Fischer provides this familiar pyramid structure of curriculum and assessment based on Bloom's Taxonomy. How can we use this example to inspire new ideas for our own content and level our own assessment criteria?

From How much do you know about cannabis?: Applying Bloom's Taxonomy to Cannabis Education by Anne-Marie Fische
From How much do you know about cannabis?: Applying Bloom's Taxonomy to Cannabis Education by Anne-Marie Fische

With the grade structure visualized in defined and achievable levels, and with the criteria for each level defined, specification grading systems can be a unifying logical system for team-taught courses. But that still does not answer how to recognize outstanding creative accomplishments inside a grading system.

When the teacher values the outstanding student and wants to reward that student through the A level grade, then they have to adjust the criteria definition at each level and define the outstanding work only achievable at the top of the pyramid.  

Self and Peer Evaluation Options: I would like to take the teacher out of being the sole evaluator of the top tier by providing the student a self-evaluation and peer evaluation, but I haven't figured out the exact logistics yet. There are research-driven hints for how to assess the highest achieving students in relation to the standard specifications levels in the existing design education materials.

ABOVE AND BEYOND LEVEL: ADD FORM AND FUNCTION ASSESSMENT

One way to make exemplary level criteria for design success is to offer Form and Function assessments.  

I propose a scale for FORM to be interpreted as AESTHETICS.

FORM / AESTHETICS CRITERIA

From A deeper look at emotional design by Kellie Carlson
From A deeper look at emotional design by Kellie Carlson

A = Unified, balanced design; an elegant, effective, appealing, memorable, pleasurable solution

B = Design is appealing but not memorable, effective, or pleasurable

C = Design is in draft stage — ask for feedback

D = Design is in rough draft stage — ask for feedback

F = Design missing or unsuccessful for the project's context


I propose a scale for FUNCTION to be based on UX and USABILITY research.

FUNCTION / USABILITY CRITERIA

From An Introduction to Usability by Andreas Komninos (2020)
From An Introduction to Usability by Andreas Komninos (2020)

A = Design meets all of the criteria defined

B = Design meets 6/7 criteria 

C = Design meets 5/7 criteria

D = Design meets 4/7 criteria

F = Design meets 0-3 criteria


CONCLUSION

To use Specification Grading to ensure continuity across a team-taught course, it is important to agree on a grading system and student success criteria. Then, to define that system into the syllabus. 

Combining the leveling up of Bloom's Taxonomy with the criteria definition of Linda Nilson's Business course looks like a workable solution for our design foundations course. Teachers will have to agree on whether to include the Form and Function level as the A-level criteria or not. I look forward to our meeting.


Resources

Breana. Tip: Specs Grading. https://higheredpraxis.substack.com/p/tip-specs-grading

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