Critiquing: An Approach to Teaching and Learning

Critiquing is an approach that encourages students to consider their own work by drawing comparisons with the work of their peers. Traditionally, students will submit their work to be critiqued by fellow students and perform their own critique on the work of one or more peers. Through this process the students get feedback on their work from their fellow students and, through the consideration of others’ work, are stimulated to reflect on their own work and think about it in new ways. The approach is common in subjects such as the visual arts, music and creative writing but could also be used in other disciplines by ensuring that the work students submit requires enough individual creativity that the students would gain little by ‘copying’ the ideas. This could include assessment artefacts such as a software design, an athlete’s training plan, a marketing strategy, and so on.

This approach is particularly useful for ensuring students receive feedback on draft or early versions of their work so that they can incorporate the additional perspectives into their finished work. For some disciplines, it may even make sense for a student’s critique of their peers’ work to be part of the final assessment submission.

How it Works

Critiquing is a systematic evaluation of a piece of work and it is important that it doesn’t simply focus on the positive or negative aspects of the artefact, but presents a balanced view that would allow the creator of the work to improve the work while preserving the existing valuable elements. In addition to receiving feedback from other students, the process of critiquing the work of their peers helps the students gain insight into their own work, which they can make use of to improve both the critiqued work and any subsequent work.

"Critique" by Stephanie Vacher

“Critique” by Stephanie Vacher

There are many different ways to organise the activity, such as two students critiquing each other’s work, groups critiquing together, groups critiquing independently, etc.,  and the appropriate method will depend on the discipline and type of artefact being critiqued. Generally, the students will make their work available before being able to take part in the critique of their peers’ work – this is to make sure that no one receives an unfair advantage by being able to see the work of others without having already shared their own.

The critiques produced by the students should be as objective and actionable as possible, therefore positive aspects of the work should be mentioned as well as negative ones and criticism should be constructive, including suggestions of how the work could be improved. The student whose work is being critiqued should either receive the comments in person or have access to them after the process is completed, and, depending on the situation, they may be allowed to respond directly to the comments or simply use them to help refine their work. Part of the final assessment will often include the students’ reflections on the critique feedback they gave and received, along with an overview of how they altered their work as a result of the process.

Possible Technologies to Support the Approach

While critiquing isn’t reliant on technology and has been used for many years as a live face-to-face exercise, there are tools that can enable the approach to be used in a wider range of situations and simplify the recording of the peer feedback.

For ‘live’ critiquing situations, audio and video recording devices, including smartphones and tablets, can be used to capture the comments of students. This allows the original creator of the work to obtain a full, accurate record of the points made by their peers, which can then be used when making revisions to ensure all points are addressed either in the work or in a rebuttal. The same recording can be used by the students giving the critique as evidence of their engagement in the process, where that is one of the assessment criteria.

Online tools can be used to allow the activity to take place over a longer period of time or where a ‘live’ critique would not be practical, such as on a distance learning course or where a the artefact is sufficiently complex that it requires extended investigation, such as a computer program.  Discussion forums, such as the ones in Blackboard, are particularly suited to this because they have an option that requires students to post their own work before they are able to see that of their peers. Using a forum allows the critique to develop as a conversation, with multiple people able to respond and further develop the critique, or allow the original creator to post updated versions of their work in response to the comments of their peers. Blogs would also provide much of the same functionality by allowing students to make their work available online along with a related space for discussion.

Critique is a difficult skill for many people to develop, particularly as it requires a systematic process in order to ensure that the result reflects both the positive and the negative aspects of the work. Therefore, it can be useful, especially when students are inexperienced at critiquing other students’ work, to provide a structured framework for the students to use when producing their critiques. Google Forms can be used to create an online form that guides students in their consideration of their peers’ work and collects all of the submitted critiques in a Google spreadsheet for further analysis or distribution.

Getting Started

"Student of Excellence Fase III" by Nearsoft

“Student of Excellence Fase III” by Nearsoft

If you are interested in trying out critiquing there are a few practical questions that you should answer:

  • Where in the course/module would this approach work best?
  • Do the students produce work sufficiently unique that critiquing would provide valuable feedback and not lead to potential plagiarism?
  • Would the critique work best in a ‘live’ situation or over a longer period of time?
  • How much technology should be involved? Which tools are most suited? What support would be needed?
  • Are the students (and other tutors) ready for this?

Having thought about these questions, you should have worked out whether critiquing is an approach that makes sense in your context and have some ideas about how to introduce it. If you are still unsure, you could try a small exercise in a single session and see how the students respond.

Further Resources

Case studies from SHU:
The following links are to case studies showing how staff at SHU have used critiquing in their teaching:

Related ‘Teaching Nuggets’:
The following links provide further information on some activities and assessment outputs that can work well with critiquing, especially for students who are part-time or not campus-based:

Other resources:

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