Swinburne University of Technology: Swinburne introduces ‘ungrading’ for greater creative risks 

Swinburne’s Bachelor of Design is piloting a revolutionary assessment program. It started with an idea of ‘ungrading’ which is exactly what it sounds like – stripping grades from the degree. 

Reduced fear of failure. Increased creative confidence. World-class design.
Academics from the highly regarded design degree noticed students had become increasingly fixated on their grades. Teaching staff were concerned about how this could impact students’ creative processes and their creative confidence.  

With a reputation as one of the world’s top 50 art and design universities, as judged by QS World University Rankings by subject, Associate Dean Education at Swinburne’s School of Design and Architecture, Associate Professor Nicki Wragg and the team had a standard to exceed. 
Creating the conditions of industry
Discussions with Swinburne’s Bachelor of Design advisory board echoed those same sentiments. So, Associate Professor Wragg engaged renowned ‘ungrading’ advocate Dr Jesse Stommel, Executive Director of Hybrid Pedagogy and co-founder of Digital Pedagogy Lab. Dr Stommel delivered a series of workshops with Swinburne design academics to talk through the culture change required to reimagine assessment in a design context. Then, through discussions with staff, students and the design industry, a revolutionary new assessment program – Assessment for Learning – was conceptualised.  

Learning to embrace the uncomfortable
There’s no shortcut to world-class design. Nor are there definitive answers.

Pro-Vice -Chancellor (Education and Quality), Professor Tara Magdalinski says that design is a discipline where students need to imagine and create, which takes both risk and reflection.

“Students are naturally worried about risking their grades if they go out on a limb, so the Assessment for Learning approach supports students to explore novel ideas, evaluate their own and each other’s creative work, reflect on their process and improve upon their designs,” says Professor Magdalinksi.

“These are the skills industry has told us they need in new graduates entering the field and we are delighted that industry will work closely with students to provide feedback and insight on their portfolios.”

Swinburne design alum and founder of design studio, MASS, Tim Kotsiakos, agrees. “Placing too much emphasis on the final outcome, too early on, can distract designers from discovering the best possible solution.” 

Swinburne Bachelor of Design/Bachelor of Business student Nasya Wu, who is a student in the pilot program, has grown as a result of the new approach.

“Having the ability to apply feedback and critiques from others is a vital skill. The safe and supportive environment Swinburne has created stresses the importance of taking creative risks for the growth of new skills and higher standard designs.

“Assessment for Learning makes me feel more comfortable experimenting with new skills, even when I might be uncertain of the final outcome,” says Ms Wu.

Launched to Swinburne’s Bachelor of Design students in Semester 1 2022, Assessment for Learning encourages students to spend more time experimenting and engaging in the deeply iterative design process. Students will receive tailored advice from a network of successful Swinburne design alum, like Tim Kotsiakos of design studio, MASS and Rachel Miles of Milo and Co, and gain one-on-one feedback sessions with industry mentors. 

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