Faced with the harsh realities of life in a pandemic—including the deaths of loved ones, issues with housing, lack of access to internet and technology, and a plethora of other challenges—our students are struggling to survive, much less thrive in their academic studies. At all levels, our government and institutions have failed to respond to the basic human needs of students; and when the system fails our students, what can we do? How can we, as educators, provide a learning environment that accepts and acknowledges the hardships our students face while maintaining standards of practice and growth? In this paper, two professors of design at different institutions—a public university in the heart of Los Angeles and a private liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania—compare and discuss new strategies for re-evaluating evaluation and assessment under the umbrella of “ungrading” as a means to foster a more human-centered learning environment. Through this discussion, we identify how issues around accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion can stem from arbitrary and often unnecessarily punitive methods of traditional grading, as well as the need for flexibility and empathy within our own pedagogical practices to address these issues. By showcasing the ways educators can flip their evaluation methods to support students, we hope to provide strategies that can reduce unnecessary stress and promote student growth and engagement with curriculum. We end with a call for a radical realignment towards the classroom as a learning environment, not a performance environment, through more student-focused grading policies.
Zachary Vernon is an Assistant Professor of Art (Graphic Design/Visual Communication) at California State University Los Angeles whose research interests include applying and studying the use of empathy, engagement, and collaboration within design and design pedagogy. He holds an MFA in Communication Design from Texas State University and a BS in Advertising from the University of Texas. Recently published work includes the essays “Stop, Collaborate & Listen” in Interactive Storytelling for the Screen (Routledge, 2021) and “Postcards From: An Intercultural Exchange in Design Education” with Analee Paz in The International Journal of Design Education (Volume 15 Issue 2, 2021), as well as professional work featured in Graphis Inc, International Design Awards, and Summit Creative Awards.
Ryan Gibboney believes in design as a tool for social activism. Driven by the power of personal conversation and interaction, she imagines every association within a community as part of the Community Design Ecosystem. Rethinking the design as problem-solving model, Ryan’s passion lies in creating situations for community members and designers to become involved on a personal level to create sustainable, long-term design solutions. Working on projects that meet the goals of the client and meet the needs of the community is key. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (BFA in Graphic Design 2008), Ryan completed Master of Fine Art in Visual Communications Design at Purdue University in 2013 while simultaneously instructing undergraduate Art & Design courses in the Visual and Performing Arts Program. Ryan currently works with Juniata College students in the Integrated Media Arts Program to design real-world solutions that meet their community partner needs. With the hope to make a positive contribution on future designers, Ryan hopes to educate the next generation of designers in the most meaningful way; teaching each student ways to use their imagination to make a difference in the world in addition to their local communities.