Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Assessment Criteria? Policy? Spirit?

Hi Ian, I'm back with questions..

It's a thought that has bothered me for quite a while:
What exactly is the assessment criteria in our studios (or our school, in general) if given a choice between talent & hardwork?

Apparently four kinds of students (or more) can be found in the studios;
1. talented & hardworking
2. talented & less hardworking
3. less talented & hardworking
4. less talented & less hardworking
5. etc.
We all know how to grade the (1) and (4), quite naturally..

The Situation

Now, how about the (2) & (3)? I believe by looking at how they are graded comparatively, we'll be able to understand what the faculty's agenda really is..
From my point of view, however, there's not one perceivable, strong guideline that the tutors follow in assessing the students or their work.
I believe there has been quite some disatisfaction and wonder among the students.

So ,what does the SABD want to do? Don't tell me it's all about $$
What's the SABD's identity? Certainly not Sketchup-ish or such..
What kind of architects does the SABD really want to give to the industry/society?

In fact, I've seen some cases whereby one's graded high because of the obvious [stable & consistant progress], while the final work outcome does not show as much quality and content compared to those of the [more talented,less hardwork done, but quality outcome] students, which at times are graded lowly.
On the opposite end, what about those (if any) who worked their head off alone, without once consulting the tutor because the tutor always tells them to "do whatever you want" or gives some unhelpful advice (which indeed happens), and finally come out with good designs/work by themselves, but still get undergraded for the lack of perceivable step-by-step hardwork?

I Think

I personally believe hardwork is more important than talent and that everyone's ability will always improve if effort's made; but hardwork itself does not equal to ability, hardwork does not promise quality and excellence as much as ability.
Does the school want to produce architects that is able to make things right? Or architects that work hard but still not yet able to make things right? I thought we're always reminded to work clever first, then work hard..

Besides, it's stated in all SABD student handbooks that an 'A+' is granted for [Exceptional quality of work...bla bla... It may also be given to acknowledge originality in work.....bla bla....]. Does it not express that appreciation we should have towards individual talents?

Grading systems are imperfect and they don't always reflect one's accurate level of standing but grades, undoubtedly, encourage/discourage people. Why shouldn't we be more willing to encourage the talented by grading them more properly?
Is the grade given by external crits actually fairer than grade given by studio tutors, then, in an objective sense?

The Integrated Policy, Is It There?

The absense of clear agenda/vision in the SABD is also quite troubling. Just look at the common difficulty to cope with the non-conherence in tutors' expectations because each of them are So different! Sometimes there's no mutual agreement between some tutors and their respective units! Didn't mean it's bad to have unique characters, as a matter of fact tutors should have their individuality.. to enlighten us. But I wonder is there anything that binds the tutors and the whole studio together? It seems lacking.. where's the architectural policy of the school?
I believe it's better if the school holds one unified, consistent set of architectural policy and it be complied by every faculty staffs. By that, the SABD should be able to always develop upon itself rather than standing still, architecturally.

I'm not an academic, and I'm not at all familiar with architectural education despite my involvement in an arch.learning research quite some time ago.
Just voicing out an honest opinion that I hope the tutors would contemplate on, and hopefully the school gets a glimpse of it.
Being a Malaysian private institution is not an excuse, I don't care what Taylor's Education Group thinks, but the SABD should be a little bit more autonomous in spirit, a responsible attitude to architectural education..

Last but not least..
I hope to get not just Ian's personal view on the matter, but also what the school is all about, if you can answer me..
Thank you very much for the time ~!

**editted on 14JUL, 2.59pm. in Blue.


ian ng said...


I had to reread ur posting to give u a fair hearing.

I think I know where ur coming from. (And obviously whatever I say is my personal opinion and not SABD's official stand.)

The question is often asked: Should we reward talent or hardwork; or, should grades reflect talent or hardwork?

There are actually 2 questions there..sorry..haha.

The 2nd question is easier, and usually comes first when a tutor grades. The obvious (and annoying) answer is, grades should reflect BOTH.

Given that enrollment on an architectural course is not a subjective matter, assessment of a student's performance is correspondingly NOT subjective. An investment has been made, and the reward, or 'profit', is a clear (and clearly printed) deliverable. And clearly it's firm and useful for taking the student to her next stage of development.

At the final presentation a tutor doesn't look for talent or hardwork first. She looks for compliance with the brief in 2 forms: the visual (and audio, if any) presentation and the verbal (oral) presentation. And they are not necessarily given equal weightage. They're looked upon holistically, as mutually enhancing components.

As you already know, the required outcomes change little over the years: dwg, models, 3-d perspectives, developmental diagrams, etc. And sometimes, videos or other multimedia outcomes.

And again, I needn't dwell on the fact that each of the kinds of deliverables have their own disciplines and technologies to be learnt. And I do believe SABD does a reasonably good job in teaching or guiding in those skills.

External critics are brought in for the main purpose of objectivity. They didn't follow you all sem, so they only grade according to your 2 presentation components. Nothing (much) can be done if a student feels her deliverables don't do justice to her talent or "design concept".

So the answer to the 2nd question, Should grades reflect talent or hardwork, has the qualifier: BASED ON THE DELIVERABLES/OUTCOMES AND NOTHING ELSE.

I have designated 2 questions to this issue although they may not appear dissimilar. The 1st question was, Should we reward talent or hardwork?

I do that intentionally to highlight the teaching process side of this issue, as opposed to the product-of-learning aspect.

Most tutors I know, reward talent (lateral thinking, imagination, incisive thought, artistic skill, etc.) and hardwork (consistent effort, experimental attitude, copious test outputs, punctuality (yes, punctuality!) etc. in varying degrees or combination and at various times in the design period of each project, at interim gradings, to be precise. But this is again on the evidence of the 2 deliverables, and not on personal fancy.

How (and how much) a tutor recognizes demonstrated talent or hardwork is beyond the scope of this little comment. But be a little assured, the perception level of tutors is higher than it appears.

Quite possibly, some may wonder if the ability and/or penchant of some students to understand or wield the more esoteric of concepts should not be rewarded and reflected in the grades. Well, as I see it, a penchant is only valuable if it can be transformed into a built outcome, even if it's on paper. We cannot reward intelligence, we can only reward demonstrated intelligence. A course in architecture, in my understanding, is not the same as one in philosophy.

So much for grades. The other big part of your question is about a consistent educational policy. That needs a separate comment. This one's too long odi...I'm not in Richards' league.

And, of course, Richard's comments are inordinately interesting. I'm kinda pleased at the kinda stuff he's experiencing--honest--and will comment when I get down to it. (There's just too much to do in the office.)

Richard Lee Mun Chun said...

"the kinda stuff he's experiencing"??


haha... i wonder what..XD

ian ng said...

In the other post, Richard...

right now i have to say a little bit on "unified consistent.. architectural policy" in colleges for some balance in my layaning.

The short of the matter is: There IS an architectural policy of education in our college, even if some students miss it in the handbooks. (I missed it, too...cos I haven't read the handbook.) What I've concluded is thru osmosis.

It's not something you'd put down in a few easy words. It's all about structuring systems for skill and knowledge acquisition, and about challenging students to go just that bit further in broadening and deepening their thinking. And we do that within an architectural context.

The program binds tutors and the whole studio together. That each tutor’s approach is so different from the next one is surely an advantage if nothing else. The desire for a unified policy may in a lot of instances be a symptom of an individual student’s need for certainty in a floating world.

That’s on the positive side. The difficulty comes when tutors disagree on what is good architecture (for purposes of assessment.) My observation is firstly that there is much more agreement than disagreement on this. And secondly that the student who wins out in such a situation is not necessarily the one who agrees fully with the “relevant” tutor, but, instead, she who considers the opposing views and then forms her own divergent proposition, and does it with verve, reason and style.

To be fair, it would be an ideal situation if students came to the design-task with independent and well-formed opinions. Realistically, though, students are also there to be taught. The best combination, then, is an attitude of teachability combined with experimentality and conviction. Intelligence is a given.