Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

What is the pedagogical value of public reviews, critiques and juries?

All of us use constructive criticism as a valuable pedagogical tool to help our students in a variety of ways: to broaden their perspectives, to deepen their understanding, to improve the quality of their work, to motivate reflection on their process, etc. It is imperative to the learning process that our students have opportunities to receive feedback, including that which is negative, and incorporate that feedback into further understanding and/or performance. How we provide that feedback is equally important to assure that our students do, indeed, hear, process and use what we say as they continue to develop. Constructive criticism, performed effectively, is a productive educational activity.

In many disciplines, criticism and feedback are delivered privately, e.g., comments on papers, grades on exams. In other disciplines, however, students receive feedback and criticism in public settings, e.g., design juries, project presentations. The public nature of feedback, particularly criticism, complicates how effective it is as a form of pedagogy; we don’t want defensiveness and embarrassment to get in the way of our students’ learning from these reviews. Equally we do not want embarrassment or strictly personal criticism used as pedagogic tools.

The nature of the public review varies as a consequence of a number of factors. These include:

  • when the review is held (e.g., half way through the project vs. end of the project);
  • the level of the students being reviewed (e.g., first-years vs. seniors);
  • the purpose and objectives of the review (e.g., to get students to reflect on their creative process vs. to challenge students’ creative boundaries); and
  • who the reviewers are – internal (e.g., the course faculty member and/or students in the class) and/or external (e.g., other faculty from the department, faculty outside the department, practicing professionals).

Based on these factors, the instructor needs to, for each review, develop and refine among reviewers and students a shared understanding of the goals, scope, and evaluation criteria.