Visualizing the Curriculum (Interior Design)

Room 118 in Carpenter Hall in the School of Design and Construction contains tables stacked with syllabi and assignment prompts. Every wall is covered with design presentation boards and other student work. The room holds course materials from every required course in the Interior Design curriculum along with samples of student products from all courses for about 20% of their students. This spring, peer evaluators from the Interior Design professional accrediting organization, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), visited campus and this room served the important function of demonstrating to the evaluators how the curriculum meets CIDA’s nearly 100 criteria for student skills and knowledge. 

This display of student work serves more than a compliance function for accreditation, however. Beyond meeting accreditation needs, faculty have been using this collection of materials on a regular basis for a year. They created a reflective assessment process in which each faculty member verbally presents the work from his or her students and courses, explaining the intended outcomes and how the assignments are designed to teach those outcomes. Then, other faculty give feedback. In this way, the display provides a space and a process to share ideas and represents the important role of critique in the field of Interior Design. Matthew Melcher, program head for Interior Design, explains, “The culture of invited critique is a vehicle for providing feedback to students—at the same time, it’s a way for faculty to better understand the whole curriculum and to learn new teaching methods from one another.”

This reflective assessment process has helped faculty identify areas for improvement that have led to changes to the curriculum and to decisions about hiring. One of the gaps they noticed was related to the teaching of theory. At one point in the recent past, theory was delivered in a concentrated dose in one course, then that changed so that theory was distributed throughout the curriculum. Recent curriculum room discussions have led faculty to question whether the move to a more distributed model of theory instruction was the right move, after all, and they are considering changing back.

Discussions in the room have also revealed strengths in the curriculum and in students’ skills. Students are especially strong in communication, particularly in their ability to combine visual and oral communication. Students regularly create design presentation boards and they speak to their visual designs for a variety of audiences—other students, faculty, practitioners, and community stakeholders—replicating a firm-client presentation environment. They do a combined visual and oral presentation at least every other week on average—totaling about fifteen times per year. By being able to see and discuss the entire curriculum and its products at once, faculty are better able to confirm that this sort of repeated practice and feedback is key to student growth and success in communication skills.

With the accreditation visit now complete, Interior Design faculty will use the curriculum room in their annual program retreat to map course adjustments for next year.  Matthew Melcher says their drive to assess and improve is internal, growing out of a passion for teaching: “When we meet accreditation standards, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are happy, if we fall short of our own measures.”

For more ideas about making assessment meaningful for your faculty, contact an ATL assessment specialist.