Lori Catalano was an early adopter and advocate for rubrics because of her interest in developing strategies to improve the quality of student learning in design studio. “As I began teaching design I was compelled by the question of how design could be taught in a way that did not merely rely on personal aesthetic judgment,” explains Catalano, senior instructor and associate chair in landscape architecture. “In my initial teaching experience I felt challenged when I thought I had communicated expectations; and yet students did not seem to ‘get it.’ I saw rubrics as a way to deal with this dilemma.”
Catalano teaches studio courses that are complex and she uses rubrics to clearly communicate expectations and to assess students work. For example, in spring 2010 Catalano taught a six-credit studio master’s level course on urban design in the College of Architecture and Planning. The class was composed of 15 students with various backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning. The students were given the task to create alternate visions for a unique form of urbanism to be located along the canals of Metro Phoenix. The semester-long project included major presentations at midterm and at the end of the semester.
Studio reviews can be stressful and intimidating for students, therefore Catalano uses the rubrics to establish a framework of criteria for student achievement and to guide the discussion with invited professionals or jurors as they review the students work. “It seemed to make sense that if I could be more articulate in describing my expectations and explaining why some students’ projects were more successful than others, students would excel.” she also explains that these projects evolve in response to the student discoveries made during the design process. Therefore, the specific course expectations and content of the rubrics develop as the projects progress.
What began as a desire to improve her teaching abilities has evolved to a greater appreciation of the value rubrics for establishing expectations. “As a teacher I feel more successful at inspiring students to explore, and helping students achieve depth and complexity in their projects.” See Catalano's the Merlot Elixr video.