‘Inspire’ HEA Annual Teaching and Learning Conference. Brighton 2016



Within Higher Education there is increasing need to make transparent the processes that regulate student assessment. The activity I presented at the HEA annual conference examines the prickly subject of academic learning outcomes, and considers how we can help make their definitions more explicit and easier for all students to engage with. A student with exceptional capabilities may already address every learning outcome successfully without ever having to read them, However, many students find the terminology that academies use to present the learning outcomes confusing. Staff help this a little by considering and discussing the relevant LOS for each particular unit at the launch of each brief and thats about it. So I would question –

Is that enough?

What about the students that miss unit briefings?

What about perpetual non attenders?

What doe all that academic jargon really say?

How can I help my student understand this more clearly?

And why are learning outcomes, that are so intrinsic to the final assessment of a students work, not integrated into the course structure more successfully?


The main intention of the workshop was to present an activity that encouraged student and staff dialogue in relation to understanding the learning outcomes and through a socially situated, shared practice to establish common standards that the group feel best represent the academic Learning Outcome descriptors.

The activity was modeled on workshops piloted within the NUA Design School alongside UG and PG students. It consisted of a series of rapid mind mapping and group discussions to aid and support student cognition of the academic learning outcome process and also to help students and staff to mutually agree on the explicit requirements as represented by academic learning outcomes.

Break out session: 01:


Each group is provided with the opportunity to discuss their changes, additions, motives and any conflicts they had whilst revising the original definition.

Break out session: 02:


Each group is asked to revisit their Learning Outcome revision and reduce the interpretation to a short and succinct statement, in the understanding that these final statements will contribute to the development of a series a flash cards to assist discussion within subsequent group tutorials.

Break out session: 03:


A final session provides each group with the opportunity to present their mutually agreed learning outcome definitions to the rest of the class, and for the entire group to discuss advantages and possible disadvantages in adopting these new definitions within critiques and tutorials.



Prototype flash cards developed within piloted workshops demonstrate how these new definitions are used within the learning environment, cards also demonstrate how such activities can be lead towards the development of a useful design strategy / learning tool.hea05 hea04


Slides from my HEA conference workshop event can be downloaded HERE

GLAD Group for Learning in Art and Design. 2015

a3 glad

In attendance at the GLAD conference, celebrating 25 years since it’s founding. It launched with a provocative opening keynote by one of its founders, Simon Lewis, PVC and Head of College at Nottingham Trent. The initial session focused on the ‘Massification’ of Education with T&L academic David Vaughn, David Buss UCCA and Linda Drew, GSA and new Director of Ravensbourne.

The focus of this session revolved around; What is the purpose of art & design in higher education? What does it mean to be well-educated in art and design? What are the relevant forms of knowledge of the art & design discipline?

The panel spoke of the consequences of many Art Schools and A&D colleges now becoming subsumed by Universities (e.g. Edinburgh College of Art). Using as example art and design educators coming up against very bright people from subject disciplines; academics who ‘knew about more about the concepts of creativity than they did’. ‘Creative disciplines have since become more theorised’. It was suggested that perhaps practice is something that universities don’t really understand. And that we would do well to look outside of education for the new streams of enquiry that can lead to better native models. So where does A&D fit in the academic structure of the University? Is its natural place with the Humanities? Simon Lewis proposed that ‘humanities people are different kinds of people’, and that the ‘Humanities are like a Trojan Horse to art and design education’, citing Institute examples (Sheffield Hallam/Nottingham Trent) and favouring partnerships forged with Schools of Engineering as the disciplines with which we can share a common focus on design process and audience. Another point raised was that, while A&D may be expensive and take up a lot of space, it brings many benefits to an institution.

The conference included breakout sessions and discussions, focusing on a number of subjects including on employability within art & design, focusing on the importance of shared practice, craft and making. With cuts to arts education and the lack of resources for making within schools, our next generation of artists and designers will find it increasingly difficult to engage through craft and making and we cannot underestimate the impact this will have.

I presented a poster on ‘’Students as active agents, classrooms as spaces for dialogue and discussion. Towards an integrated and more unified understanding of the learning outcome framework.’ this gathered a lot of interest, from colleagues and panel members including Linda Drew, Ravensbourne and Susan Orr UAL. The research activity I proposed, has since been adopted in other areas of T&L. Having heard from GLAD director Tim Bolton, Plymouth, that he has used the model with a couple of course teams to get them to think about how to engage students in authentic practice, not just chasing learning outcomes.

A really interesting and worthwhile conference

Art Of The Assessment

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Martin Kippenberger – The Problem Perspective. MOMA New York. 2009

Activity 1:

1. Visit the Times Higher Education website

2. Search for ‘MOOC

3. Stand Back!

(Thanks to James Wisdom for this advice!)

 “It’s going to change. There is no doubt about it… For students in developing countries who can’t get it any other way, or for students in the first world, who can but may choose not to… Pay thousands of pounds a year for your education? Or get it for free online?” Sebastian Thrun Director of the Stanford AI Lab

If we want to talk assessments, or at least the future of assessments we need to consider where education is going and to do this, inevitably we come face to face with the MOOC. The M stands for MASSIVE and massive it literally is, proposing to carry courses from 12 UK institutions set to rival established providers in the US, openly available to students across the world free of charge.

Open University launches British Mooc platform to rival US providers Times Higher Education. 14 Dec 2012 

“We had a million users faster than Facebook, faster than Instagram.. This is a wholesale change in the educational ecosystem.” Daphne Koller. Stanford AI Lab

MOOC is being heralded as the future of learning, with tens of thousands of students enrolling for its courses and famous name tutors praising its values, writing at how astonishing it is to be teaching so many students. Conversely we see some of the UK Vice Chancellors panicking at the perceived threat this move will have on the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ universities, saying that its not real education unless you have the richness of involvement a traditional English education system offers (think lofty aspirations, eccentric tutors, peers, prefects, thinking great thoughts, wearing boaters, walking under trees, lashings of ginger beer..).

However, closer scrutiny exposes the real debate. What about certification? A student who studies online needs certification, after all what is the good to study online if you have nothing to show for it in the end? So we will inevitably see a growth in online certification, which will raise the question of the validity in the assessment process. Once this certification is in good quality, who is to know how a successful student has studied and ultimately how and by whom assessed? and will this matter anymore?

In pedagogic terms ‘Assessments’ is about course design using learning outcomes and constructive alignment.

 ‘looking at practices useful to the designing of teaching and learning plans, with pedagogical methods and strategies aligned to the the competences developed by students’. Tinus Van Rooy. ICED Conference. 2010

‘The ultimate goal is the use of ‘constructive alignment’ as a system, ‘from objectives through teaching to assessing the outcomes, is aligned on the basis of learning activities embedded into objectives’  Biggs, J. 2003. Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 2nd edition, The Society for Research into Higher Education, Buckingham: Open University Press. 

Joe Biggs’ writings on constructive alignment, taken from his ‘Teaching for Quality Learning’ journal is evident in practice throughout all of Higher Education. Lecturers are taught how to design models with learning outcomes driven by appropriate assessment. However attention is turning, due to a number of recent reviews that critically evaluated these reforms, as some of the new teaching methods, intended to achieve greater results failed to achieve sustainable benefits (Williams and Lua. 2004).


Sculpture Group ‘A’. ‘Sitting Project’. Central Saint Martins. 1971

Interestingly, James Wisdom mentions that attention has started to shift away from student assessment via Constructive Alignment, towards examining and improving on the role of the program leader/course leader within educational institutes. Course leaders are individuals who have to hold together a team of teachers whilst designing a whole degree. Institutes will use a form of learning outcomes to do this and that will inevitably end up looking like an assessment model.

 ‘..if what goes on with the teaching is driven by well designed assessment, then the well-designed assessment becomes potentially more influential than the individual teacher. Anyone trying to pass that course will probably study it in that particular way, whoever is teaching them’.

What James Wisdom proposes with this statement is a radical rethinking of HE, and a concsious move towards spending more time designing assessments, than training our teachers.

 A Lesson On Generics

Activity 2:

1. Visit google

2. Search ‘generic’

3. Sit down, yawn..

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‘.. if you have basic programming ability, which we’ll all have if we complete the course.. and a bit of creativity, you could come up with an idea that might just change the world” Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder on MOOC

Creatively, at first glance, a generic culture is not particularly inspiring is it?

If all learning is based solely on assessment models, if we do streamline the experience of learning so that students can do away with the need of an institution and even the need for a real teacher, no matter how efficient this new model is, and how successful the student is at passing a required unit – What effect does this have on the creativity and the employability of a graduate?

As noted, within the recent altshiftual Art and Design conference held in London, last December. Creative Director Chris Clarke of LBi states –

‘..It is not that there is a lack of work placements out there for our students, it is the fact that more students are graduating nowadays than ever before and most without that essential ‘creative spark’ that creative agencies are wanting’.

This ‘creative spark’ is a transferable skill (from person to person) that most creative agencies thrive off. It is this same spark that acclaimed artist and Cal Arts educator John Baldessari claims of the student –

‘When you teach, if you haven’t seen the ‘fire’ in their eyes and if you don’t see the ‘fire’ in their eyes, you have to try a different approach until you do’.


The Locked Room. Central Saint Martins. 1970. A Question Of Feeling. BBC Documentary

It is not uncommon within art institutes to see a provision to work on ‘real world’ briefs with clients attending tutorials to discuss work in person. This approach develops working patterns that mimic ‘real world’ context, with the college becoming an intermediary between community and business. Through group tutorials art institutes foster a positive competitiveness, where students become familiar, confident, and comfortable with confrontation of a creative and challenging kind. These transferable skills are essential within the creative industries and many the territory outside of an over arching assessment model.

For learning programs which incorporate many e-learning elements into their program already, I am certain MOOC will perform very successfully, yet the culture of art and design education is about as far from online as it could be and it is as much about building a sustainable staff-student relationship of trust and mutual respect, as it is about quantifiable assessments. But the issue still remains. The separation of teaching from assessment, which goes against every culture we have inherited, represents a threat to the traditional college structure, but the prospect of free education may very well out-way the disadvantages . . .


‘The pool hall “mook” brawl in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) offers an alternative vision. “Soccs” (small online closed courses) might be a better description of what many so-called “Moocs” will end up looking like’. 

‘Socc it to ya, ya big mooc’. Simon Walker. National teaching fellow Head, Educational Development Unit, University of Greenwich. 13 December 2012. Times Higher education

Essential reading:

“Goodbye to all this?” ‘Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? The Observer. 11 Nov 2012. Carole Cadwalladr. Ironically the online article, spouted some 361 comments before they closed the process, goodbye to all this? I think not..

Middle class pupils shun University. The Guardian. 11 Nov 2012. David Boffey



David Boud

Nancy Falchikov

Sally Brown & Phil Race

Peter Hartley

Kay Sambell and Liz McDowell CETLS “assessment for learning in higher education

Oxford Brookes ASKE

The TESTA project at Winchester

Creativity in Learning

Allan Kaprow

“I would propose that the first practical step towards laughter is to un-art ourselves, avoid all aesthetic roles, give up all references to being artists of any kind whatever. An un-artist is one who is engaged in changing jobs, in modernizing. It is quite possible to shift the whole un-artistic operation slyly away from where the arts customarily congregate. To become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities, the several kinds of art discussed would operate indirectly as a stored code, which, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness towards all professionalizing activities well beyond art.”

This quote from the artist Allan Kaprow first appeared in his essay ‘The education of UN-Artists, Part 1’,1971.

I use it to open my enquiry into creativity and learning. Allan Kaprow’s actions celebrates ‘Deliberate playfulness’, This I maintain is lacking from the many conventional learning processes, which western education processes their students through to make them more ‘creative’.

** Interlude** 

9.30am Just another ordinary day 

Teacher ‘Good morning students’

Student(thinking) ‘ I hope there are no surprises’

Teacher(thinking) ‘ I hope I have prepared everything’

 ‘learning prepares your for dealing with surprises, education prepares you to cope with certainty’. Seth Goldin. The future of Learning.

The year is 2010 British Designer Neville Brody raises the flag of ‘Anti-Design’ The Anti Design Festival challenges all state conventions. and opens its doors to an unnerving public on exactly the same day as the annual London Design Festival does, separated by only a few blocks. . .

Under the banner of ADR Neville Brody gathers contributions of art and design that challenge contemporary stereotypes. Presenting work that is seen as un-commercial, dangerous, and anti-establishment.  a response to 25 years of cultural deep freeze in the UK, exploring space hitherto deemed out-of-bounds by a purely commercial design criteria.

‘We have forgotten why we are here. We have lost touch with what makes us tick, what drives us. That fire of creative possibility has started to die, and it is time to re-light it. The Anti Design Festival was born out of a need for change. A need for something new, ugly, scary and dangerous. We welcome no_use, no_function and no_fear. We welcome anarchy, without the stereotypical.’ Neville Brody

Anti-Design can best be described as a state of transition from something which was fairly formed into something which is now entirely un-formed, un-formed to a point where its difficult to know what the function actually is. Not knowing, converse to all that you have been raised up to believe, is fundamentally a very good thing. As Seth Goldin assuredly affirms, ‘it is only when we don’t know, that we can then start having a conversation about things’. ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’ TED talk 

One obstacle which education is now facing, is that our population at large, is growing more adept at self awareness. Technology has closed the gap between culture and the individual self and we now live with the sense that life is not linear, that its far more organic, and we now effortlessly engage with new forms of non linear activities much more symbiotically, as we create our lives and explore our talents in relation to the circumstances they help to create for us.

Many of our ideas governing formal education have been formed not to meet our personal circumstances, but to cope with the circumstances of previous centuries. Education now finds itself in a position where it has to sink or swim, or as Sir Ken Robinson exclaims ‘We have to disenthral ourselves’ from its dogmas. ‘Bring on The Learning Revolution’ TED Talk

Conor Harrington ‘ A whole lot of trouble, for a little bit of win’

If we consider how revolutions work, they first destroy the perfect and then they enable the impossible. it is never a transition from very good to very good, theres always a lot of noise in the middle and this is where education has been. Education has moved very slowly, with the past generation of students limited by textbooks, bound by a system formed around the age of the industrial revolution, military in conception, and then suddenly… were connected, our learning is network accelerated, there is a transparency between student and teacher, proto-academies spring up and dissolve mentor/student hierarchy and there is a real engagement within the arts education system to nurture open dialogue with nonart/industrial/intellectual environments. The new course Narrative Environments. recently set up at Central St Martins to prove a point.

 ‘Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.’ Sir K.Robinson. ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ TED Talk

If this current education is meant to take us into the ‘future that we cant grasp’ the processes which lead to creativity within the learning environment have to be completely rewritten, and it is the art department with all its reliance on the creative process that people will look to for having all the right credentials to lead us into this brave new world yes? .. not necessarily.

Google/ youtube/ et al, without a shadow of doubt have unanimously demonstrated that there is an extraordinary macrocosm of human creative activity happening at all times and everywhere. Human communities depend upon diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. The value of this everyday, everywhere, human creativity, filled with passion and fuelled by trying and trying, time and time again, failure after failure until one day success! This is where the real creative model lies and these are the learning techniques academies will need to adopt. As Seth Goldin declares education has a long way to go ‘if you want to teach someone to become passionate about something, why would you invent a text book?!’ The future of Learning

School has killed creativity and in his enigmatic talk of the same name sir Ken Robinson asserts that ‘creativity.. is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.’ 

So what can we do to bring about the right change that will allow for a more fluid and organic approach to creativity within our classrooms?

If we listen to the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Goldin, Joi Ito, Sugata Mitra, Steph Heppell, Jose Ferrira Knewton, Daphne Koller, we hear a unanimous voice which proclaims:

We don’t process you and if you fail re-process you again

We don’t sit you in straight rows

We don’t build a system of interchangeable people like a factory based on interchangeable parts.

We do personalise the experience of education

We give our students the space and support to solve interesting problems

We forge a movement through which students can develop their own solutions, creatively

We abolish means tests and multiple choices; memorising answers is a thing of the past

We teach that failure is an integral part of success and that its fun

We build our academies based on cooperation instead of isolation, why make students do things in isolation and then put them in the real world and tell them to cooperate?

We sit and explore with them together.


Resources :

Bring On The Learning Revolution. SIr Ken Robinson

The Future Of Learning. Seth Goldin

Stop Stealing Dreams. Seth Goldin


Schools Kill Creativity. Sir Ken Robinson

Mit media Lab Joi Ito 

Communities in Practice an enquiry

Tatsumo Orimoto – The Breadman

With the recent refusal by the current Conservative government to include the Creative Arts into the newly re-assessed GCSE model EBACC. Creative subjects are becoming sidelined and we have seen a dramatic 27% cut of creative subjects from the curriculum last year and 45% the year before that (Guardian article here).

Central to this ongoing debate surrounding Art & Design within education right now is the relationship our educational bodies and institutes have with the creative design industries.

Current teaching models ensure our creative learning departments ready students by learning ‘from’ the Industry. Professionals are now challenging us to reconsider this dated relationship.

More info here – Altshiftual Examining the future form of education for design and the creative industries. Dec 2012.

Altshiftual proposes that we begin to see industry as a partner, learning ‘with’ not ‘from’, this does not mean we replicate industry, instead it calls for the establishing of equal discussions and to use this new relationship to design experiences that will better prepare our students to benefit from the world they wish to inhabit.

One of the models Design in Education has adopted is that of developing creative spaces or visual idea labs that help nurture innovation, capability and preparation for graduates entering their chosen design industries. These spaces bring into contact design professionals and graduates and provide research and development opportunities that support the creative industries within an uncertain future.

Recession or no recession. In the UK top class designers are constantly in demand. Agencies are hungry for ‘newblood’ (D&AD) and the economy needs creative, versatile and engaging design graduates. If we listen to what some of the UK’s leading Art Directors have to say (Chris Clarke LBi). Education as a model working independently with little to no involvement with the creative Industries, proves unsuccessful at providing visionary  young graduates.

To surmise what Chris Clarke and others had to say at the AltShiftual Conference –

‘At best the conventional model for design education can only prepare our students for entering a design industry that ‘was’ rather than an industry that ‘is’, part of the reason for this is that industry moves so fast and that ‘any’ curriculum will find it impossible to keep up with this and will inevitably fall behind. Solution: The education system needs to in some way embrace a new working relationship’.

Trisha Austin. Director of MA in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins calls this new working relationship ‘a multiple stakeholder situation’. In which the college and its students becomes an intermediary between community and business. The MA Narrative Environment course enables students to work on a program of live projects that help inform this mutable relationship.

Design Agencies also recognise the importance and reward of exchange and debate. Student initiatives still largely governed by external professional/private bodies bring the industry closer to the education model rather than the other way round. Few educational departments have yet to address this successfully, although one example ‘Lost In The Forest Institute’ seems to promote the cultivation of a new industry/education collaboration very successfully.

‘LitFI’ has been built on an educational model inspired by the work of an inspirational world leading Designer – Bruce Mau is a Graphic Designer and co-founder of the Massive Change Network. His career, though rooted in graphic design, has spread into the realms of architecture, film, landscape design and more recently design education.

In 2003, he founded the Institute without Boundaries An innovative, studio-based postgraduate program in collaboration with George Brown College, Toronto.

Bruce Mau and his students created the groundbreaking exhibition Massive Change – A project that declared, “Massive Change is not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world.”

With the ‘Institute without Boundaries’, Bruce Mau started a new revolution in design thinking which helped to re-frame the design student as a problem solver with the ability to effect positive change for humanity.

Mau went on to launch the Massive Change Network an initiative committed to developing purposeful projects in education, health, leadership, and security and effectively paved a way forward for Design Education in the first part of the 21st century.

Through the ‘Lost in The Forest Institute’ Bruce Mau challenges design education to adopt a more purpose driven, entrepreneurial approach to accelerate student development.

The ‘Lost in The Forest Institute’ is now based on the top floor of Stockport College. It is a unique departure from innovative design/education models. Instead of the more common approach of students leaving the department for placements within the local design industry. Thoughtful A design agency based in Manchester agreed to move their entire office into the school’s design department and work alongside second-year students for a whole six months.

 “What’s particularly interesting about this collaboration is seeing what happens when you have a commercial design practice functioning in an educational setting”. says Stockport College graphic design tutor James Corazzo, who came up with the idea after being frustrated at the lack of dialog.

In summary we must learn from what industry has to offer, we must actively engage agencies within our departments in unpredictable and interesting ways. Our students need to become well versed in the needs of the industry and we must encourage our institutes to engage with projects alongside communities and business partners, rather than opting only for projects of commerce. Communities in practice is happening outside of the academic institute, design agencies are embracing this approach, world design leaders are talking about it, so why is education failing to respond accordingly? Why some and not others? What do most of our institutes have to be afraid of?

Curiously my two models are from largely different backgrounds – Central Saint Martins, a very well funded art school and Stockport College, a further education institute. The majority of the UKs Art and Design Institutes fall neatly inbetween these two models, where more than likely it is the hierarchies and bondings of ageing, elitist, academic values that can still bear weight and relevance on the direction of a departments growth. In this new economy where uncertain futures bring about challenges, discourse, and engaging collaborative models providing opportunities for social change of which I can see the ideology of communities in practice being central. Will our institutes be one of the last ones to make a change, after everyone else has made up their mind? or will it engage in the social narratives that help to collectively improve our education system and with it the future of our art and design economy, right now?

Bruce Mau Designs www.thethirdteacher.com


Communities in Practice in summary

‘The School of Athens’.  Raphael. 1509. Aristotle and Plato – Discussing the respective merits of Idealism vs Realism.

Notes from this months December Web-inar

Communities in Practice in summary –

A shared activity in which people are collectively engaging with an emotional bond that drives collective interactions without force.

Three key aspects to ‘community in practice’

1. A shared passion – The domain in which the community exists, be it online of offline is represented by the collective with commitment and competence, (for example the idiosyncratic practice which gang culture adopts and ultimately leads to the creation of a collective, recognisable identity).

2. A community – An interacting community, interacted with specifically for the benefit of collective improvement/self improvement, (for example – The Parisian world at the turn of the 20th Century ‘La Belle Epoque’, consisting the numerous Parisian Cafes famous for being Artists hangouts. The Painters, the early Impressionists together, conversing, exchanging, but not actually working together).

3. A shared practice – Arrived at from diverse fields and pathways (nurses, surgeons, hunters, tribesmen, musicians, etc).

Network of Practice

What are the benefits of Communities in Practice within the digital domain?

1. The community has access to a shared space, accessing tools, archiving events and open source.

2. It helps link a network of professionals directly with the community, allowing for equal voicing, comment and response from all those involved.

Perceived Disadvantages

1. The community has to communicate through a specific set of online tools, forum-base and generic expressions.

Experience and meaning becomes altered in some way by the mediating tools we use ( e.g. software/hardware/bandwidth).

Peripheral Participation

Genuine activities built in to engage with the peripheral activities of a specific community.

Two communities that dovetail together to benefit both.

Digital Habitats – coined by ‘Wenger’

Create spaces – provide the tools, cultivate the space for communities of practice to happen.

Threshold Concept – Transmission through Design

          Martin Creed. No. 1092 (2011)

“An Olympic marathon: the glow of a letter (…) passing from runner to runner, the heart of the message laying precisely in its transmission”. The glow of a letter, the transmission as the heart of the message… “ Regis Debray – Socialism a Life Cycle

British Design was borne out of a socialist context, a pursuit bought about by the drive of a craft based network of makers, to provide the people of modern day society a voice. Design of the 1900s presented itself as a vehicle of ‘mass’ communication for the common good, a voice for the people and alongside this, a reliable distribution of the ‘truth’, predominantly by messenger ( see Clarions – Fellowship is Life)

In his essay ‘Socialism a Life Cycle‘ Debray describes the versatile subculture of printers, typographers, librarians and publishers that turned out to be the cradle of socialism. and it is not hard to see that the not-named-yet heart of this “craft-based network” (as Debray himself describes it) as what later became widely known as ‘Graphic Design’.

‘Socialism a life cycle’ wins hands down the title of ‘best article’ about Graphic Design that I have read in a very long time, taking into consideration that Debray nowhere actually mentions the word ‘graphic design’. Throughout the article Debray demonstrates the many ways in which socialism grew from a particular ecosystem, an ecosystem consisting of printing and typography. Debray calls this system the ‘graphosphere’, and situates this sphere in the period running from 1448 to 1968. In Debray’s ‘graphosphere’, ideology is a product of Design, rather than Design being a product of ideology, which is an exhilarating revelation and definitely a defining ‘Threshold Concept’ Moment.

Debray’s enthusiasm throughout this essay is contaminating, revealing socialism as the political manifestation of Graphic Design, and modernism as the social manifestation of Graphic Design.

Design as presented in Darbys ‘graphosphere’, is not a tool to spread ideology; it is the other way around. To put this simply, Design doesn’t follow what people think, but what people think follows Design, and this is a very liberating proposition and clearly demonstrates the communicative potential and power of Design.

What this essay reveals is that all designers are ideology creators. every designer is ideological, whether he/she is aware of it or not.

140 years has passed since the rise of this left field movement and modern day Graphics Design now reigns superior, underpinning the visual identity that has come to be known as the world of commerce, economics & politics.

To enter into the design industry having grasped this key threshold concept, enables Designers to engage with this medium as a tool for social good, and with a thirst for continual enquiry. For those that have formed an understanding of design through an acknowledgement of its heritage, the world of advertising is a industry within which they can assist in the redesigning of ideologies and redistribution of ideas and wealth, akin to those key principles which first informed the growth of the discipline.

So for Graphics Design, I would propose that its key threshold concept would be to look to the past for the answers of today, and through so doing, come to a self realization of the relevance of, and power of design and the printed, distributed word. Words are a designers medium and that is a very powerful force to wield, and one which asserts more influence than to be used for those aesthetic considerations made on the side of a tetra pak or jiffy bag.

“The greatest modernizers inaugurate their career with a backward leap, and a renaissance proceeds through a return to the past, a recycling, and hence a revolution. Behind the ‘re’ of reformation, republic or revolution, there is a hand flicking through the pages of a book, from the end back to the beginning. Whereas the finger that pushes a button, fast-forwarding a tape or disc, will never pose a danger to the establishment”.        – Experimental Jetset


Threshold Concepts an Introduction

Shana Moulton. Whispering Pines 2010

My introduction to ‘Threshold Concepts’ has been informed by the reading of Chapter 18. from the publication by Osmond, J., Turner, A., & Land, R. ‘Threshold Concepts and Spatial Awareness in Transport and Product Design’ and through the article ‘Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning‘ By Jan H. F. Meyer, Ray Land and Caroline Baillie (2010)

As well as the above publications, I also accessed the vast online resource of essays, notes, podcasts and power points on the subject (Administered by the UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering)

‘Grasping a threshold concept is transformative because it involves an ontological as well as a conceptual shift. We are what we know. New understandings are assimilated into our biography, becoming part of who we are, how we see and how we feel’    

Threshold concepts as an approach to student learning, was first introduced into the world of economics almost a decade ago, the above quote was originally presented to Earth Scientists by the academic Glynis Cousin in her essay An introduction to threshold concepts.

Meyer and Land propose that students repeatedly have difficulty with certain areas of their academic practice, and that the understanding of Threshold Concepts at an early stage in their development can radically alter all subsequent perceptions and understandings of their chosen discipline. Once ‘mastered’, Meyers and Land suggest the student is unlikely to return to previous perceptions and understandings. This concept therefore is incredibly powerful and one not without dangers or as cited, without ‘troublesome knowledge’.

With the resulting new cognitive powers surging through a students mental state and the student engaging with unfamiliar and new territory, threshold concepts often require a passage through what is called a ‘liminal stage’ where a degree of difficulty is involved and the student has to address approaches to their practice and conduct which can easily be perceived as counter intuitive from the norm.

Characteristics of a Threshold Concept have been perceived as manifesting through a series of transformative features and may be considered to be “akin to passing through a portal” or “conceptual gateway” that opens up “previously inaccessible ways of thinking about something” Meyer and Land

Threshold Concept Characteristics

Transformative: Once understood, a threshold concept changes the way in which the student views the discipline.
Troublesome: Threshold concepts are likely to be troublesome for the student. Professor David Perkins has suggested that knowledge can be troublesome e.g. when it is counter-intuitive, alien or seemingly incoherent.
Irreversible: Given their transformative potential, threshold concepts are also likely to be irreversible, i.e. they are difficult to unlearn.
Integrative: Threshold concepts, once learned, are likely to bring together different aspects of the subject that previously did not appear, to the student, to be related.
Bounded: A threshold concept will probably delineate a particular conceptual space, serving a specific and limited purpose.
Discursive: Meyer and Land suggest that the crossing of a threshold will incorporate an enhanced and extended use of language.
Reconstitutive: Understanding a threshold concept may entail a shift in learner subjectivity, which is implied through the transformative and discursive aspects already noted. Such reconstitution is, perhaps, more likely to be recognised initially by others, and also to take place over time.

Fascinating stuff! In my next post I will consider Threshold Concepts in relation to the practice and teaching of Graphic Design, with an emphasis on Graphic Communication.



Constructive Alignment in Process

Constructive Alignment October Task 1
In response to the reading of Chapter 4 Biggs & Tang (2007) Teaching for Quality Learnng at University: What the Student does. Maidenhead: SRHE & OUP

I am to answer this assignment by presenting my explanation in the form of a classroom activity. I have aimed to explain Constructive Alignment in a way that a classroom of K3 learners could understand. This exercise is directed to a group of K3 learners, and involves through practice and discussion adequate means from which to understand the term ‘ constructive alignment’.

It seems unjust for me to discuss in this post how I would in theory inform a K3 student of Creative Alignment, as from what I now understand C.A. is so much about the experiential benefits of learning and the effects it has on the individual aside of taught theory.

Therefore I choose to adopt the workshop model not only to illustrate an example from my own teaching context, but to also answer the October assignment. The workshop model seems appropriately relevant to reflect on the fundamental theories inherent in Constructive Alignment, i.e. ‘that experience has to be reflected and provided independently from learning’ Chapter 4 Biggs & Tang (2007) And from what I may add – Outside of teaching and informed by the experiences and learning activities of the learners themselves.

When considering what is Constructive Alignment? I would first seek to ensure all K3 learners understand the meaning of those two words separately from one another i.e. constructive and alignment.  And it is from this first cognitive enquiry that I will introduce the learner to C.A. through the following creative workshop.
Please note, this workshop has been designed to assist in the understanding of CA for a K3 class of graphically minded learners. This addresses my own undergraduate / postgraduate teaching context as Graphic Communications lecturer.

Duration 1Hr 30Mins

‘Adults and children sometimes have boards in their bedrooms or living rooms on which they pin pieces of paper: letters, snapshots, reproductions of paintings, newspaper cuttings, original drawings, postcards. On each board all the images belong to the same language and are all more or less equal within it, because they have been chosen in a highly personal way to match and express the experience of the room’s inhabitant. Logically, these boards should replace museums’.
John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972
Prior to the session all K3 students please familiarise yourself with the selection of workshop images and the suggested online resources ( see below)
Through completing these few simple exercises you will be introduced to Constructive Alignment and more importantly, learn how to reflect on your practice, not repeat answers.

What is Constructive Alignment ?

Teachers notes: C.A. is defined as a method of teaching which builds on learning through experience aligned with a learners own practice.
C.A. is to do with direct experience, it is believed that learned experience has to be reflected and provided independently from learning, therefore a learners involvement with the learning activities and understanding of the subject to explore is holistically aligned to their learning outcomes.

‘Constructive Alignment is common sense’

‘..It is obvious yet most university teaching is still not aligned’

‘A common method of grading students is comparing how well they compared to each other (norm-referenced) rather than whether an individuals learning matched the learning outcomes’ Chapter 4 Biggs & Tang (2007)

To construct means to build (and you usually build upon something or with something) Have you ever tried to build something out of nothing?! To be constructive means to build in knowledge and to develop skills through personal activity.

Teachers Notes: Constructive learners use their own activity to construct their knowledge.
‘What the student does is actually more important in determining what is learned than what the teacher does’ (T.J. Shuell, “Cognitive Conceptions of Learning ” (1986), 429 ).

Alignment is all about the way different elements work together, when your teacher asks your class to stand in a line for assembly, and when you all do this correctly, this is a form of alignment. When you empty all your pencils out of your art-box, they most likely will fall all over the table randomly, it is highly unlikely they will fall aligned. But if you consider all your pencils individually you will see that they share many different relationships, for example some are the same height, some are the same colour, some are sharp, etc.

Teachers Notes: Alignment through teaching states that the learning activity in the intended outcomes expressed as VERBS are activated through the teaching AND in the assessment task. Alignment is achieved by ensuring that the intended VERB in the outcome statement is present in the teaching/learning activity and in the assessment task.

For your first exercise –

Look at the 100 images provided for you in the folder on your desktop and demonstrate the many different ways you can Align them into different groups, activities or collections. Refer to the list of verbs below for examples to represent.

20 Minutes Task

Well Done! You have demonstrated that you have skills in visual alignment, aligning similar images based on personal decision making. What you have demonstrated is a common skill which we all share. Everybody in your class has alignment skills,

Teachers Notes:  ‘The level of engagement is expressed in the cognitive level of the verbs used’ Chapter 4 Biggs & Tang (2007) To what level a learner aligns their learning activities with high level VERBS and how they choose to describe the reasoning behind their decision making and choices enables the teacher to understand at what level of assessment, learning outcomes are to be assessed.

Groups of images which are assorted by verbs such as ‘tall’ ‘small’ ‘blue’ ‘wide’ ‘square’ ’round’ etc all low level cognition
Groups of images which are assorted by verbs such as ‘twisted’ ‘cut’ ‘creased’ ‘scattered’ ‘discarded’ ‘suspended’ ‘layered’ ‘symmetrical’ etc high level

Activities are verbs, specify what verbs the students must enact in the context of the discipline being taught.

Now lets look at everybody’s examples of aligned collections, who would like to describe the decision making that informed their choices of alignment?

5 Minute Discussion

If we look at the whole groups outcome, can anybody tell me what else we can see?

You were each given the same 100 images, but you have all aligned your images in entirely different ways..

The way you have chosen to align these images is based on your individual tastes, your preferences, and personal experiences, which means that the decision making which informs your alignment is special to you and this is why everybody has completed the task and has different outcomes from each other.
And here is another interesting fact about constructive alignment, everybody has completed the task and got it all 100% correct.

Teachers Note: ‘While teachers will encourage ‘intended’ learning outcomes.  we should also allow for desirable but unintentional outcomes, as these will inevitably occur when students have the freedom to construct their own knowledge’.Chapter 4 Biggs & Tang (2007)

When using constructive alignment in the classroom, each student is assessed individually it is not about outperforming each other, there is no best student or worst student, there is however the freedom to construct from you own knowledge, whilst ‘learning specific content to acceptable standards’ Instructional Alignment: Searching for a Magic Bullet. S.A.Cohen 1987

Now for your second exercise –

With your aligned images design a poster and demonstrate how well you understand what is meant when we use the term ‘alignment’ .
Use typography and titling to help explain each individually aligned group of images. Consider using a typeface with a similar appearance to effectively represent your chosen group of images. When looking for the right typeface consider its weight, legibility and visual appearance.For example if you have a selection of images which all look square, you may want to find a san serif condensed typeface, as this can be considered to have a similar visual appearance to your aligned imagery.

20 Minute task

Who would like to describe the reason behind their choices and the relationships that are happening when we look at both the text and images together?

5 Minute discussion

Now for fun, choose two groups of aligned images which you consider to be opposite from one another in visual appearance, and exchange the typefaces used in each title for one another.

Who feels this looks better than their original type and image composition?
Who feels this looks worse than their original type and image composition?

Those that feel their images look better form a group and write down the reasons behind your decision.
Those that feel their images look worse form a group and write down the reasons behind your decision.

10 Minute discussion

Teachers Notes: Learners are helped to do what they need to do in order to meet the intended ILO’s of the course, learners are asked to record learning related incidents and reflect upon them.

As a class lets now discuss these two choices.

5 Minute discussion

What do you think the learning outcome of this last exercise was?

10 Minute discussion

Teachers Notes: Discussions included as part of the learning activities and group work activities assist the learners in engaging not only with the topics that need to be learned but with the learning activities they need to engage with in order to achieve the intended outcomes.

With Constructive Alignment in the classroom a proper means of assessment is crucial. You have all presented such unique designs and individual responses to the last task and it is impossible to evaluate the learning outcomes via norm referenced assessment, this group exercise has demonstrated how well you understand the subject being taught. Your group discussions have shown evidence of the learning that has taken place and have for certain individuals shown evidence of reflection and analysis in the written evaluation.


Assessment of this workshop would ensure the alignment of the learning outcomes and the teaching activities as related to the expression and elicit use of the verbs therein described. i.e. How well the learner demonstrated an ability to understand the concept of aligning and grouping together a class of images, the level to which he/she had represented the verbs list referred to in the activity and also the types of verbs (low level , high level) the learner had used to assist in decision making. The assessment would also take into account at what level of cognition the learner was able to describe his/her informed decision making within written and group work related discussions through reflection and analysis.

Learning Resources

Design Online :

Hans Peter Feldmann – Sonntagsbilder 

Roy Arden – The World as Will and Representation
Collect the World Exhibition 2011

Golden Voyager Record Mission 1977

Online search tools:

Google image recognition

Search by drawing

Search by colour

Image Aggregators:




Verb List –

Education in Context

Since 2007 I have been committed to delivering self initiated project briefs and training modules in art colleges and universities across Scotland and now more permanently as full time lecturer at Norwich University college of the Arts. Throughout my academic practice I focus on creating a methodology that incorporates ‘The practice of everyday life’, as I believe a key element of showing strong design practice is to ground a personal approach within discovery and understanding through everyday social interaction.

This is a methodology that I first became aware of through the works of Michel De Certeau and Iain Borden’s book “Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body”

Toby Paterson, Cluster Relief I, acrylic on aluminium, 2009 (detail). Courtesy The Modern Institute, Glasgow

As a lecturer my aim is to encourage students to describe and rethink the penetration of their designs within the urban landscape and to offer a more interdisciplinary approach to the studying of art & design practice and its relationship to social encounters & emerging technologies.

Professionally I work in the field of realtime graphical processes, performance & digital media and I have academic experience covering the study and practice of this alongside undergraduate and postgraduate students of media art, fine art, graphics design and architecture.

Immaterials: light painting wifi by timo arnall + jorn knutsen + einar sneve martinussen

From a design practice point of view, I believe digital media opens up incredible opportunities for students to create and share in new forms of communication and to connect with others in so many different ways. One of the key motives I follow as a lecturer is to ensure my academy recognizes the impact emerging technologies has on contemporary art & design practice and to ensure my students are familiar with this and agile in designing forms of social engagement via the tools it has to offer.

SO what do I expect from attending this course ?

I am here to build on existing expertise and best practice. I am keen to learn more about the UK professional standards framework and how it can help my own practice. I have taken time to identify the common learning framework that NUCA uses and I am interested to hear about current research, developments and innovations in art, design and media –  teaching and learning.

AND where does this type of collaborative practice lead us?

To the notion of an integrated 21st century school of art which encourages students to see themselves as impassioned artists and designers no longer working in isolation mode but within vibrant institutes alongside staff very much involved with the needs of the individual, and aware of the social changes that need to be made to help Shift boundaries between academic learning environments and the creative industries students will enter into.