Facilitating a Culture that Celebrates Experimentation and Addresses the Fear of Failure through Assessment

Alex Girard
Assistant Professor
Graphic Design
Art Department
Southern Connecticut State University

At Southern Connecticut State University, it has been observed that students pursuing a design degree are entering the program with a background dominated by a philosophy in which success equals providing a pre-defined, correct answer to a problem. This approach does not prepare students for a design process in which experimentation is paramount, as there is no singular correct answer to a given design problem.

The test-taking model of assessment assumes that information is disseminated by the instructor, retained by the student, and then recalled during a test. In this model, correct answers are consistent across submissions; it does not allow for the synthesis of something new, which is key to a successful design solution. Further, students in this process are often creatively crippled by fear of failure, as failure will negatively impact their final grade. Applying this philosophy of a singular correct answer, students are hesitant to embrace a process that encourages the exploration of ideas with multiple solutions.

While parameters guide a design project, end results are not measured against a pre-defined, correct design solution. In theory, each solution has the potential to be vastly different from another, yet still successful. Developing an assessment model that reinforces this process of experimentation with multiple solutions can be challenging for an instructor.

This presentation outlines a response to the perceived disconnect between the academic background of incoming students and the process required to achieve a successful design solution, utilizing an alternative project assessment model at Southern Connecticut State University. While this assessment model was applied in a limited context, positive results were immediately apparent and lasting; most notably, a marked increase in student experimentation with multiple solutions was observed.