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Critique vs. Criticism

General Guidelines: Critique Versus Criticism

Critique…

Criticism…

… comes from a position of expertise. … comes from a position of ignorance.
… is constructive (offers improvements, what TO do). … is destructive (what NOT to do).
… is selfless (respects the author’s goals, not what the critic wants). … is selfish (advances critic’s goals).
… is specific (e.g., your writing would be improved if you limited use of adverbs). … is vague (e.g., I didn’t really like your writing).
… focuses on the creation. … focuses on the creator.

Peer review in engineering depends upon an understanding of critique.  As differentiated from criticism, critique is motivated by the intention to serve the author’s or designer’s goals (rather than the critic’s).

Criticism (bad) is personal, destructive, vague, inexpert, ignorant, selfish and individual.

Example: “Your presentation sucks because you don’t even do the math right, and I wanted to know the best option for the truck because I’m thinking about buying one. You also mumble too much and speak too quiet so I can’t hear what you said so I just skipped ahead in the video to the conclusion.”

Critique (good) is impersonal, constructive, specific, expert, informed and selfless.

Example: “The presentation could be improved by including a comparison of net present values calculated for the truck’s lease and finance options with multiple discount rates to allow the audience to identify more closely with the analysis. There is an audio problem with the recording that made it difficult to hear, so I recommend re-recording the audio using an external microphone to ensure high sound quality.”

In general, criticism is judgmental and focused on finding fault, while critique is descriptive and balanced.
Both criticism and critique are forms of feedback, but it should be obvious that critique provides a better learning environment.  Still, students who lack expertise may consider themselves underqualified to provide critique.

General Guidelines for Providing and Accepting Critique

Providing Critique Accepting Critique
Assess your own positionality within the community Have an open mind
Make it all about the reader/user Avoid being defensive
Understand context (timing) Don’t play the blame game
Understand that improvement is a process (which is why you want to be specific with your critique) Ask clarifying questions

Providing Critique

One way to provide constructive feedback to an author is to chronicle your experience of being a reader in the non-judgmental way.  You can do this by sharing with the author your reactions in all three aspects of the mind.

  • What did you think while you were reading?
  • What did you feel?
  • What did you do?

Simply by describing your reactions, you can provide the author a better sense of their audience — i.e., the “experience of the reader” — in a way that allows them to improve their writing.

Receiving Critique

Just as there is an art to giving criticism, there is an art to receiving it. In his blog, Dan Rockwell gives tips on how to receive feedback like a leader

Receive feedback with openness, not defensiveness.

To benefit from feedback, he suggests asking:

  1. Tell me more.
  2. Help me understand what you’re saying.
  3. What makes you say that?

One way to benefit from both criticism and critique is to keep a mindset of personal growth.  Rather than becoming defensive or confuse the feedback for something that defines who you are, accept the feedback as an opportunity for you to grow.

Introduction to Peer Review and CritViz

Practice of engineering relies on peer review to improve work, catch mistakes, provide feedback and disseminate knowledge.  We use peer review in CEE300 for similar reasons.  In a previous post, we looked at a concept referred to as Network Based Education that described: Self Learning, Learning from a Teacher, and Peer-to-Peer learning. That particular blog post pointed out that peer-to-peer learning has some of the greatest potential for improvement and is subject to the Network Effect in which more students = more knowledge = more interaction = a better experience for everyone.

Now we can start describing what this “better experience” is in relation to Peer-to-peer learning. To start, let us take Howard Rheingold, the man behind the Peeragogy HandbookPeeragogy can be simply defined as self-organized peer learning. The handbook itself is a resource for co-learning based around the Peeragogy concept of peers learning together and helping each other to learn. The Peeragogy project seeks to empower the worldwide population of self-motivated learners who use digital media to connect with each other, to co-construct knowledge of how to co-learn.

The Handbook provided 29 chapters of information, too much to grasp at once, so the following is a summary of some of the general concepts the handbook promotes:

We are human because we learn together. Ever since the ye old days, people have gained experience, knowledge and progress by working with, collaborating and communicating with the people around them. “It is the essence of human culture”. Why change that now?

“Education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process” – John Dewey.  Engage, participate and be present. You might actually learn a thing or two if you do.

Ideally, the need for peer review should not exist! In a perfect world. People should be in constant and open peer review dialogue so that the need for a formal peer review wouldn’t be necessary.  To make this ideal situation a reality, it starts with small steps. It starts with questions and curiosity, with in class assignments and with the desire to make yourself and others better.

Personal Supports Peer.  How we cultivate living, responsive webs of inspiration and support that help us be more effective learners. It is the “personal learning network”

Peer Supports Personal.  You have something to offer and something to learn. You can learn a lot from your collaborative efforts.

Peer-to-peer review is a teaching technique widely used in design disciplines, like the arts.  In courses where students are expected to create original artwork, it’s essential that they understand how to give and receive what is called critique.

But peer review is also an effective way to teach writing, which is an important learning objective in CEE300.  The following video, No One Writes Alone, provides some noteworthy tips for how to be an effective reader providing feedback to a peer author:

  • Provide the experience of the reader, don’t get caught up about what you “ought to say”
  • Be constructive and provide your perspective
  • Remember that you are a collaborator – be focused and specific
  • Point out what they did well (but don’t overdo it)
  • Ask Questions, be curious – Even the most basic questions can help
  • Help improve the quality of the work

MITPeerReview

Welcome to CritViz

Critviz is a program that was created specifically for the purpose of Peer Review by two professors, Loren Olsen and David Tinapple, from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering here at ASU. This is a beta or trial program that these professors originally designed to fit their classroom needs but since doing so, has allowed other classes to give the program a try.

To sign up for CEE300 Fall2016 on Critviz, navigate to critviz.com and use the CEE300 course code IJKSHLEB.

Ken Robinson: The Post-industrial Education will be Network-based

This video from Sir Ken Robinson presents a modern critique of public education.  “The Problem”, as he puts it, is that the modern system of education is out-of-date.  It was conceived in the 19th century to serve the Industrial Revolution, and as such it is predicated on a factory metaphor.

The realization that we are now (in the United States) in a post-industrial revolution — i.e., the Information Revolution — helps reveal the deficiencies of the industrial educational model in an largely interconnected society.  A new model is called for, that is conceived as a network, rather than an assembly line.

To understand a model of education that is suited to a post-industrial economy, we must understand the types of interactions that take place with regard to sharing knowledge.  There are three types, and the first isn’t really “inter”-personal at all:

  1. Self-learning.  This is the type of learning mythologized by Matt Damon in the movie Good Will Hunting.  The disadvantage is that students will make lots of mistakes — i.e., their learning will be inefficient.  The advantage is that the knowledge students discover for themselves is likely to be more profound and longer-lasting, and prepare them to create new knowledge thru research.
  2. Learning from a teacher.  This is the model that most US students become familiar with in their K-12 experiences.  In this model, the teacher identifies the learning objectives, designs the exercises, and assesses student progress.  The advantage is that a good teacher will discover what is most efficient and effective, thereby accelerating student progress.  The disadvantage is that teachers are expensive, especially when learning is inefficient despite following the teacher’s lesson plans.
  3. Peer-to-peer learning.  Particularly at residential colleges, students will often form study groups where they learn from one another.  The advantage is that peer-to-peer interaction often helps students of all aptitude levels.  The disadvantage is that group work might be perceived as violating the frequent admonishment to “do your own work” or risk being accused of cheating.  Moreover, where student grades are based upon relative performance, there are disincentives to assist each other.  Lastly, peer-to-peer learning can be inefficient without expert leadership, and getting several people together at the same place and time can be problematic.

All three of these types of learning are typically expected in many college classrooms.  However, they do not all relate to advances in information-communication-technology (ICT) in the same way.  For example, in peer-to-peer and self learning, costs are coming down rapidly.  Ironically, in Higher Education (which is dominated by the teacher-led model), costs continue to rise.  This may be in part because teacher-led instruction has hardly been changed a whit by ICT.  Although more lectures than ever are posted on the internet, most models of on-line instruction involve minimal interaction between the teacher and the on-line students — at least compared with traditional classes.

Traditional teacher-led instruction already uses a broadcast model, where one expert is delivering a monologue.  While it’s now widely recognized that the Internet multiples the potential audience by thousands of times, the basic broadcast model is not necessarily changed.  The economics of this model of teaching places students in direct competition with one another.  That is, the addition of one more student to the class diminishes the attention that other students can receive from the expert.  The only consolation is that once a class gets pretty big (say, more than 40 students), the marginal loss to each existing student by adding another is very small, because few students were genuinely expecting quality interaction with the teacher anyway.  Thus, the economics of on-line courses dictate extremely large classes, where the cost of adding additional students is small and the loss of quality in the experience is minimal.

However, the rapid expansion of ICT has resulted in an explosion of self-learning by making instructional materials extremely inexpensive.  Students now have unprecedented access to archival material, including instructional videos such as those published by Khan Academy, and on-line courseware such as MITx.  Unfortunately, self learning does not result in the credentials necessary to communicate mastery to society.

Peer-to-peer instruction has similarly exploded, and not just via Skype or other technologies that allow distance tutoring, but through websites such as piazza.com or cramster.com that allow students to share solutions to homework problems.  Moreover, the videos on Khan Academy do not exist entirely unto themselves — they also invite comments from viewers that can ask questions, write comments that provide answers, or clarify aspects of the video that are unclear.

It is in peer-to-peer learning that Higher Education might find the greatest potential for improvement, albeit at the expense of narrow, albeit cherished, ideals of academic integrity. This is because peer-to-peer instruction is subject to what is called the Network Effect.  Unlike a traditional classroom, addition of new people in a network makes the network more valuable to everyone else already on the network.  Massive economies of scale result.  So in a peer-to-peer learning environment, more students means more knowledge, more interaction, and a better experience for everyone.

Whereas peer-to-peer learning used to be limited by the number of people that could fit around a table, ICT now allows thousands of people to interact without having to be in the same space at the same time.  What hasn’t happened yet (at least not in a formal sense) is a hybrid model in which an expert teacher provides the learning objectives, structures some of the learning activities, moderates the interactions, validates the credentials, but peers conduct the assessments.  We do see the beginning of peer assessment (such as rating comments on YouTube), but we have yet to see a formal course offering that masters assessment in such as way that captures the network effect.

Nevertheless, this hybrid model seems to be the future of Higher Education.  We will likely see fewer Instructors, larger classes, much, much lower costs, and an enormous effort to integrate ICT and social media into college courses.  Most importantly, the expectations of the students and faculty have lagged the technology.  That is, students generally do not feel like part of a learning ecosystem just because a course incorporates social media.  For example, they don’t necessarily feel a responsibility to post, or comment, or answer questions from other students.  Where these options are already available on-line, they’re almost always exploited by intrinsically motivated individuals (except perhaps for some top-rated Amazon reviewers, who do get perks), where 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  But that could change.

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