This is the fourth and final post in a series on architecture communication skills by Emily Edwards, with contributions from Aurora Murphy and Samantha Donnelly. Part 1-3 of this series can be read here.

In this post, Emily reports on a presentation she gave at the 2021 UTS Learning and Teaching forum as part of the theme ‘Feedback literacy and peer feedback’. 

Why peer review in architecture? 

Peer review is a type of activity that involves students reviewing and evaluating each other’s work in order to actively engage in the feedback process and develop feedback literacy. In their article on peer review, Catherine Moore and Susan Teather explain that: 

In order to successfully direct their own learning beyond university (and engage in lifelong learning), students need to be able to evaluate their performance in relation to a standard, identify gaps, and determine how to bridge them in order to achieve the desired standard if required.

Moore and Teather 2013, p.196.

In architecture courses, students might give and receive feedback on each other’s project designs in their studio subjects, however, we found that students often struggled to evaluate each other’s verbal communication skills, which are essential to performing a crit (critique) presentation. UTS Lecturer Samantha Donnelly says that in her experience, “peers tend to write generic, kind, supportive comments rather than giving good critique”, and that students need explicit instructions about how to provide constructive feedback. 

A peer review activity focusing on communication skills 

I wanted to get my students to evaluate their verbal communication skills in relation to certain criteria, since criteria are a great way of making an evaluation clear and meaningful. I was also mindful that feedback does not always need to be ‘tangled up’ with formal assessment (as Naomi Winstone and David Boud argue in this 2020 article). So rather than using formal assessment criteria, I developed a list of six criteria that reflected the key aspects of crit presentations I had been focusing on in Language Development tutorials with first year Bachelor of Design in Interior Architecture students. 

These six criteria are shown in the table below. I used this table for an activity in week 11 of session, shortly before students would be doing their final formal crit presentations. In the activity, students listened to each other doing a practice crit presentation, and marked ‘X’ in the corresponding column for each criterion.  

Criteria Yes Somewhat No 
1. Introduced what the design is.  X     
2. Explained why the design is needed.      X 
3. Explained what is focused and responsive about the design (the key concepts).  X     
4. Showed/pointed out parts of the design (drawing or model) clearly via Zoom.    X   
5. Used a strong and clear voice. X      
6. Used a wide range of Architecture vocabulary.      X 
This table shows an example of how students could fill out the six criteria for assessing their peers’ crits.

As well as evaluating each other’s presentations using the criteria, I also asked students to make written comments about anything that was particularly good, and/or anything the presenter could improve. All of the comments and evaluations were shared via Google Docs. 

I noticed that students were able to easily complete the criteria table and then articulate feedback comments for their peers using wording from the criteria. For example: 

  • Maybe not to cover all criteria [aspects of the design] but choose some important [ones] to present.” 
  • “Sorry if I didn’t hear it but did your design follow any [key] concepts?” 

Some comments covered other areas of verbal communication that I had not explicitly included in the initial six criteria, such as speed of speech or fluency. For example: 

  • “He can speed up a bit his speech rate.” 
  • “[You] can practice more to make your presentation a lot [more] fluent.” 

Although I had identified fluency as a key communication challenge, I assumed students would be able to practice and improve their fluency through the practice crit presentations – but it’s interesting that students named this challenge themselves!  

Outcomes, learning and reflection 

I found this peer review activity helpful in consolidating my students’ learning from a series of classes in which we had focused on crit preparation and presentation skills, and in practicing their evaluation skills. In future, I will include fluency in the criteria and also look at how to conduct this activity more smoothly online – using only one class Google Doc was rather clunky! 

As the new year of teaching starts, we plan to continue our action research project as it really helps us to systematically explore different approaches and activities, and immediately integrate student feedback into our teaching. 

Further reading on self and peer assessment: 

Hoo, H-T., Deneen, C., & Boud, D. (2021). Developing student feedback literacy through self and peer assessment interventions. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

  • This is a great way to approach peer review in Architecture and beyond! It’s so true what Samantha says that students tend to give ‘kind, generic comments’ and also that they don’t know how to give feedback on verbal communication. I love this comment from a student as it’s such a graceful way to critique work: “Sorry if I didn’t hear it but did your design follow any [key] concepts?”

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