The aim of the Sketchdrive project (2014-2015) was to create ‘visual conversations online’, preparing Eindhoven’s design education for a major shift online in the context of a transformed design education. The Sketchdrive project is a partnership between Sketchdrive and Technical University Eindhoven and was funded by the “Leren in Eindhoven 2030” call of the Eindhoven municipality.
A substantial part of the Sketchdrive project has been to develop general guidelines for good visual feedback that could be specifically supported by a tool like Sketchdrive. The outcome should not only benefit the further design and development of Sketchdrive as a tool for teachers, but also how visual feedback tool should be best employed in a creative setting:
- as an efficient means of teacher feedback;
- as a creative tool for ideation, research, and forming of group consensus;
- as a means for peer-feedback and inspiration amongst course groups.
Visual feedback tools are powerful collaborative technology to facilitate creative processes, but technology alone cannot do the job – it is up to the human user to make best use of such tools. The teacher guidelines should help identify best scenarios for tools in courses or creative assignments.
In this section we will explain with which aims Sketchdrive has been developed. Then we will extrapolate these aims to a more general set of criteria of how the visual conversation can help shape the future design education. Following we will describe all practical measures we took to implement Sketchdrive in the courses and evaluate these against the criteria. This section concludes with a set of teacher guidelines to get the most out of working with visual feedback in general and in an online environment like Sketchdrive specifically.
When designing Sketchdrive we had the following benefits in mind:
- More creativity: The online platform logs the creative process and is available wherever, whenever. This creates the opportunity for more iterations in the process as it is always available and more coherence between the iterations as one has an overview of all production in the creative process. We believe this leads to more creativity.
- More attention outside contact hours: in our experience students are working hard the night before class and the morning after. With an online platform teachers can address students more often, motivating them to put effort in their projects.
- More peer-to-peer learning: In Sketchdrive all students have access to each others work. They can see it and comment on it. We believe that this is a source of inspiration. They can be inspired by someone else’s work itself, by their feedback or by their sheer production level.
- Better understanding of own creative process: The online platform logs all the production of the process. By having this overview student can easily go back in time and discover where certain choices were made, and based on what. This allows them to better understand their own process of creation.
- More critical teaching: Students are asked to upload not just final results, but especially all sketches and drawings that led to that result. This gives teacher much insight in the path a student has taken. Teachers can now critique not just the final result, but also all steps towards it.
- More iterations in the creative process which will lead to a higher quality of work: As explained in the first bullet, the platform motivates more iterations in the design process. This means more trial and error. We believe that more error results in higher quality of work.
- Easy engagement of external critics: the platform allows teachers to easily invite other teachers or critics in to the course. They do not have to be flown in, they do not have to be in class and they do not have to be there all classes. This means critics can be asked to join the class for just one day, or just one hour. As the platform has logged the entire process of all students it is easy for externals to quickly understand what someone is struggling with and help them.
- Support of different learning styles: The platform has an option to allow students to organize the structure of the course by generating personal project specific topics and tags. This empowers them to take control and focus on topics that they feel are important. The structuring and tagging of documents guides the teacher into the world of the student.
Apart from concrete results in terms of the Sketchdrive integration and better methods for visual teacher feedback, framed as visual conversations, this project aims at exploring future directions for providing better teacher feedback that satisfies the following constraints:
- Comprehensive documentation of a design project
- Indicating growth and areas of improvement
- Support for (self-)reflection
- Knowledge pull, access to experts and experts’ resources
- Holistically putting students in charge of their learning process, addressing different personal learning styles
Based on these criteria we will now evaluate the implementation of Sketchdrive and how the visual conversation can help shape future design education in Eindhoven and have a global reach.
implementation efforts and results
Successfully implementing Sketchdrive in the pilot courses was achieved using the certain approaches and triggers for teachers and students. We describe actions taken and reflect on their efficacy in the following:
First we presented Sketchdrive to all involved teachers, making sure they know its purpose, how it works, and what benefits can be reaped for them and their students in the course. We also selected a few pilots in which we did not do this, so the teachers were confronted with the Sketchdrive tool without explanations, and had no idea what to do with Sketchdrive, and were unable to motivate their students to work with it. These pilots clearly failed (and as a result are not mentioned in this report). This supports our belief that new learning tools must be understood and supported by the people who work with it, and not just handed to them top down to ‘see what happens’.
Setting up Sketchdrive
Once the workings of Sketchdrive were clear, we formulated the structure of the courses together with the teachers. This means setting up groups, topics and tags specifically tailored to a specific course. Each course is very different depending on who is teaching it, in what context, how many students are in, is it skill or design training, etc. These differences make it impossible to have a platform ready to fit all from scratch. Instead, the flexibility of setting up courses easily is vital to the success of blended learning: if the setup is right, the platform should provide a comprehensive documentation of the process.
With the course in place we invited students to the course. The moment at which you invite students onto the platform is important. When they start and there is nothing there yet, it is too early. It seems upon logging in that one enters an empty room, and students leave. When they start and it is too full, (e.g. instructions/content that is relevant only three months later into the course) it is too late. Another important aspect is to pick an synchronized starting point for all students: especially when one student starts much later than the others he or she will feel so far behind that it is demotivating. So it is important to synchronize the online and offline teaching carefully.
We did several tests on how to motivate students to work with the platform. The key is to make it an integral part of the course, and not an add-on.
- We started classes by opening Sketchdrive on a beamer in front of the entire class and we discuss what had happened that week. This allows teachers to give recurring feedback, demonstrate good and bad examples and keep everybody on board and active.
- We had Sketchdrive opened when discussing work with students in face-to-face teaching. It is great to be able to refer to earlier stages of a creative process when discussing what is on the table then and there.
- We tagged recurring feedback and good examples, and instructed students to check regularly for documents with this tag. It means that students will see feedback on other students’ work, that is relevant to them as well. It is useful for them, and makes them login and explore the course much more often than they would when staying inside their own project bubble. We have even experienced that students would first go to Sketchdrive and see what others had done before starting their own assignments.
- We introduced a tag called ‘feedback please’. Teachers would login regularly and were able to help out students before meeting with them again. The effect is twofold: the student will make more iterations and sees the quality of work go up. Second, the students actually using Sketchdrive get more teaching as their tagged documents were the first to get feedback. This motivated them to put more work online.
- We asked students during class at random moments to get all up from their seats and take a picture of their work at that very moment. This encouraged them to upload frequently, and to upload drawings that are not finished, thus creating a more complete overview of their process.
- We uploaded motivational messages into their projects with feedback. This would cause them to get a notification by mail that something was added to their project, grabbing their attention to the course. We did notice that indeed production went up from there, as it did when students got feedback on their work quickly after uploading it.
In some courses we required hand-in on Sketchdrive. This makes it a mandatory part of the course. Online hand-in has many benefits:
- the format for handing in is exactly the same for all students,
- the time of hand in can be controlled precisely, and “they know…,”
- when all work is available on the platform, teachers can view this collection as they feel is most productive to them. So instead of browsing through many, heavy and unequal booklets, panels and so forth, the platform allows teachers to select one deliverable and have that deliverable of all students in one view.
Feedback and Self-reflection
We asked students and teacher to give feedback on the platform itself. This made them look critically at the way they work and the way they are used to work, and this created a new consciousness among students. We asked students to give feedback to work of peers, both in drawing and writing. This was hard for them. They are uncertain about putting their opinions on the table, especially to peers. However, the practicing of doing it anyway (because they had to) really strengthened their critical attitude towards their own work as well.
We stressed the importance of self-reflection. This can only be established when all stages of the design are documented, that is, uploaded unfinished work, sketches, scribbles, tryouts etc. We noticed a strong focus on final production, by both students and teachers. This comes from traditional teaching patterns divided into assignments and their (final) deliverables. The online platform can illustrate the difference between exploration (production) and reflection (critique) and facilitate both.
We have invited external critics to courses. In one course a client from China was introduced, in another a two hour feedback session with a industrial designer from Singapore was held. This opened the eyes of students, as they realized that their working not to please to teacher, but to make a great project. It really made their world of design a lot bigger and increased their sense of responsibility as designers. This new transparency occurred in other occasions: in one course a teacher was invited that normally never attends the course, and that teaches another subject. He could see how his teachings (skills) were used in this course (design). It gave him an insight into the bigger picture of his contribution to the education as a whole. There is a downside to opening up the course to outsiders: the students can be intimidated by those who are looking. In the case of the Chinese customer, students wanted to upload only finished, polished documents, and not the sketches that led them there.
Finally we registered that a course director, invited to be a viewer in multiple projects, who indeed logged in and looked around. Again it is new transparency that a course director can easily access the actual work that is done in his department. The platform also allowed him to showcase these projects to others.
We believe this new transparency helps to get education programs more cohesive, and to connect these programs with the rest of the world. To be able to learn and measure yourself with a larger educational community fuels the motivation and capacity to improve.
10 Guidelines for Teachers
In the following we summarize our experiences (see above) in a short guide or “cheat sheet” for teacher who would like to actively and productively employ a digital (visual) feedback tool in their education.
- Start immediately
Do not first start your course, and then introduce an online environment as add-on later. It is crucial that it is present, integrated and used from the very beginning.
- Create a habit, prescribe a process, (more or less) force usage
Do not leave it up to the students whether they use it or not. Make sure that some assignments can be done only online, and that all assignments have an online aspect.
Do force students to upload during contact moments, be there when they do.
- Demand uploads and comments on unfinished work
It is crucial to include unfinished work. It is in the process that we learn, not when it is done. The mindset of students (and teachers) is too focused on final result, but then it is too late to make more iterations, add more ideas, make more mistakes. Be aware of cultural biases here.
- Promote feedback from other sources than yourself
Do invite other people to comment on the work of your students. With an online platform it is not a big thing to ask. Invite people that are outside of your subject, your school, and even your profession.
- Do it live!
There is nothing better than face-to-face contact with students. An online platform will not replace this. However, using the platform as a tool for instruction and reference during contact moments will add to the value of online moments.
- Focus on reflection as a process
Make reflection on the work (own and peers) an active part of the curriculum. Teach the art of giving feedback to your students. Make it an exercise to them, do not monopolize it. This way students will get more and more diverse feedback.
- Confront students with work of peers
Show them what you like, and what you don’t like. Explain why. It is for students easier to understand the critique on someone else’s work.
- Respond to what is there, not to what is missing
Much time of teachers is lost in talking about what the student has not yet done/should be doing. With an online platform they can see from others what it missing themselves. Spend your time on giving feedback on what is actually on the table.
- Emphasize judging of a process, not a final result only
Even if it is clearly mentioned in education material and course descriptions, focus creeps towards the final results instead of being distributed to the entire process. This pattern needs to be broken and untaught as soon and consistently as possible – especially of the feedback tool allows to prepare the judging of final result by viewing the process in back of house.
- React fast
Last but not least, a platform that enables fast feedback loops between teachers and students, needs a certain momentum to be successful. The teacher needs to initiate this momentum – by scheduling and timing the course, but mostly by responding swiftly to feedback requests. Plan frequent times to respond to feedback requests and hold onto them.