the art of the critique


I just received some comments for a group presentation from the second course that I took in the DL environment. I don't know exactly what happened, but there was a huge delay in getting any feedback/grades for the assignments of the course. This was hugely frustrating while I was in the course, but in the long run my experience was bittersweet. I was very happy with my mark... but it was basically a self-directed course, so I damn deserved to do so well.

Anyhow, I guess in a way to make up for the experience (late feedback, even later posting of final marks) another instructor (the one who originally wrote the course) kindly offered feedback on all of our group presentations. What a difference. His comments made my day. It was a fun presentation to begin with... my group was presenting on Gender, not my first choice because I was afraid that it was going to turn into some kind of typical, boring gender discussion. I came up with the idea to create a mock Gender Self-Help book for our presentation. (I don't know why I feel like I'm fluffing my own ego by saying it was my idea, but it was, so why not take credit for it... if somewhat anonymously). Anyhow, my group really got into the whole thing and it came together rather seamlessly. The text wasn't exactly what I wanted but I gave up on some things that the group wasn't behind (I wanted to bring up the construct of gender and sex as related to transsexuals), but overall I was quite pleased with the presentation.

I did the formatting in CorelDraw, trying to make it look as similar to a real book as I could. It was a eventually converted to PDF... so it ended up looking like a hardcover with a dust jacket... with a funky retro 50s design (green and yellow with black illustrations). The instructor for the course gave us a good mark (a few months after the fact, but better late than never) but the comments were a little sparse. You know the kind, nice but doesn't really critique anything (other than our lack of citations... oops).

But why a blog post dedicated to comments? You see I'm a comment/feedback junkie and good critique (and what I mean by good is thorough) is fuel to my academic fire. Anyhow, even if these comments were a way for the program to save face from the embarassment of the lack of organization relating to the other course... well, damnit... they worked. The new comments said that our presentation was one of the best realized "creative" approaches to a presentation to be seen in years. It was playful... a convincing simulation of a gender handbook... a welcome corrective to what would have been a far too grimly serious report from the trenches of the gender wars... and because gender is inherently absurd and comic, the juxtapostition of the gorgeous graphical look, the interactive games, and "cooperative" rhetoric did much to permit the reader to approach the topic in a similar spirit. And then the comments went on to include real commentary... where the commentator engaged with the content of our presentation, offering insight and asking questions. It was fabulous.. a real critique. It had the good, what was poorly executed, and what to improve upon. I have to go read it again.

Composing a good critique is an art. I deeply admire those who can critique without arrogance... those who can simultaneously admire your work, engage with your content, while inspiring improvement.