Multimodal Critique: VoiceThread as an online, mobile alternative to the revered design critique

Presented by: Jody Lawrence, Stephanie Zollinger

Critique is an essential form of assessment for design education, activating a dynamic exchange of ideas and facilitate student growth. The benefits of fluid, descriptive dialogue are clear. However, maintaining the fluidity of such exchanges beyond studio can be a challenge, and often defers to email. This method is problematic because the exchanges lack the dynamic reciprocity of dialogue that Schön (1987) describes as fundamental elements that facilitate practice-based learning. Schön’s model of “reflection-in-action” stresses that mutual discourse in design is essential, and should “take place in the context of the student’s attempts to design” and use “actions as well as words.” This suggests the the learning experience should promote and support multivariate interactions, namely in-person. Traditional design critiques do this, and have become formalized as a cornerstone of the studio experience. Most educators agree with Schön, that in-person critiques are the best way to communicate with and mentor students because they are natural and dynamic. Davies (2007) examined the descriptive nature of verbalized assessment and suggests when “descriptive feedback is increased, students learn more.” Davies contends that formative assessment that does this “feeds forward,” supporting conditions that optimize student growth and the development of ideas. Ice et al. (2007) suggest that verbalized feedback conveys more nuance, and that expressive communication makes learners more likely to use the feedback to develop their work. Their investigation of asynchronous audio feedback implies that these benefits are preserved using non-direct methods, and add that students perceive the feedback as more personalized and caring. To explore how online technology can facilitate verbalized feedback outside of an interior design studio, the authors integrated VoiceThread as a multimodal critiquing platform. VoiceThread is an online discussion space and smartphone application that allows participants to give feedback on the image-rich content of a “thread” at any time or from anywhere. When participants leave verbalized comments, it also records them sketching on the images with the drawing tool. The threads are accretive, built upon over time, and can be exported as digital video files. The authors identified VoiceThread as a multimodal, tech-savvy means to organize peer critiques. The discussions that ensued were productive and richly descriptive. Students enjoyed the experience because it provided “space” outside of studio to share and discuss their work, and presented an alternative to the usual review process. As a plus, monitoring the threads allowed the authors to assess the application of knowledge demonstrated by each student critic, and to mediate or prompt when necessary. The asynchronous attributes of VoiceThread made it easy to include outside professionals, thus simulating a formalized, traditional critique. Architects and interior designers from all over the world were invited to threads featuring student projects, activating rich discussions about refining and actualizing the designs. A survey revealed that students carefully considered the feedback, liked that the discussions were not isolated to a single afternoon, and that the experience made them feel connected to industry. The professionals appreciated the online method and the utility of the smartphone application because they could participate without the demands of time and geography. The critics deemed it an engaging and smart strategy to dress up the revered critique: an online alternative with equal rigor. This presentation shares how VoiceThread facilitated multimodal critiques that increased the frequency of verbalized communication, transformed how students solicit and access feedback, and cultivated the fluidity of dialogue paramount to Schön’s model. The authors present this as an alternative to the revered design critique.


  • Davies, A. (2007). Involving students in the classroom assessment process. Ahead of the curve: The power of assessment to transform teaching and learning, 31-57.
  • Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students' Sense of Community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.
  • Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the re?ective practitioner. San Francisco.