module specification

CP4021 - Critical and Contextual Studies 1 (Visual Communication) (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module title Critical and Contextual Studies 1 (Visual Communication)
Module level Certificate (04)
Credit rating for module 30
School School of Art, Architecture and Design
Total study hours 300
225 hours Guided independent study
75 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 33%   Patchwork and Reflection
Coursework 33%   Case Study
Coursework 34%   Essay
Running in 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year City Tuesday Afternoon

Module summary

Critical and Contextual Studies (CCS) Level 4 aims to orient and critically engage students in the history and theory of their discipline, its extent and conventions, and its broader social and material context in culture and contemporary practice.

The module helps students to reflect on what they see, and to read connections between different ideas that have shaped their discipline. In particular the module investigates how thinking and articulating ideas about practice in their field might be framed – for example in relation to history, the economy, society and the environment, or through theory and practice.

The module introduces students to a range of academic skills needed to produce a graduate-level study in their final year. It helps students to develop their own interests, and to reflect on and take responsibility for the development of their own learning. This includes surveys in the history of their discipline, research and writing workshops, seminars, library sessions, visits and tours in addition to guided independent learning.


Critical and Contextual Studies Level 4 is structured in the form of three equally-weighted, intensive teaching blocks. Each of these blocks culminates in a summative assessment. Assessments include a range of different modes of written assignments such as patchwork-writing, a case study, or an essay. The first assessment includes a 500–700 word learning reflection element. The syllabus and assessments are designed to support the development of academic skills, including inductions to using libraries and archives, critical reading skills, presentation skills, writing skills, working with feedback, avoiding plagiarism, referencing, as well as note taking, planning and time management skills. The following themes and activities are indicative.

What is Critical and Contextual Studies?  L.O 1-6
This block introduces students to the skills, knowledge and key terms that will enable them confidently to begin discussing, researching and writing about visual communication practice at undergraduate level. Talks, trips, workshops and short tasks will support students in identifying and using appropriate sources of research. Peer feedback sessions will provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own work and discuss how use it to develop their learning.

What is visual communication and its histories?  L.O 1-6
This block explores the relevant histories and contexts of 20th Century visual communication practice. Through peer-led research tasks and an individual written assignment, students will identify broader contextual factors and wider cultural elements that have influenced and informed the application of visual communication practice.

How do changing cultures and contexts shape visual communication?  L.O 1-6
This block investigates contemporary visual communication practice and its relationship to changing cultural and contextual factors. Students will use key theories and examples of practice in order to analyse and evaluate contemporary practice, developing critical thinking and writing skills.

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students are expected to, and have the opportunity to, continue with their studies outside of scheduled classes. There will be a range of learning strategies deployed and individual learning styles will be accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, have been scrutinised and will be regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive approach to pedagogic practice.

The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning, to foster peer-to-peer communication and to facilitate tutorial support for students. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment items and interim formative feedback points that ask students to reflect on their progress, seek help where they identify the opportunity for improvement in learning strategies and outcomes, and make recommendations to themselves for future development. Throughout the module, students build a body of work, including reflections on progress and achievement.

The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports students’ personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able, as they progress from year to year, to understand the professional environment of their disciplines, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module students will be able:

1. to use information retrieval systems effectively and develop appropriate methods for collecting, organising and deploying knowledge;
2. to read, analyse and interpret different kinds of written texts and other key sources of documented knowledge, such as recorded sound or images, objects and artefacts;
3. to demonstrate familiarity with the scope of their discipline and broader ethical, historical, social, cultural, economic and practice-based contexts;
4. to articulate a critical understanding of the objects of their study, using a range of written forms of presentation, noting specific terms, languages, references, genres and audiences;
5. to become aware of the relationship between the theories and practices of their discipline in its creative application;
6. to effectively respond to and reflect upon feedback on their own work in order to develop and improve their learning.

Assessment strategy

The module is assessed in a developmental way and structured as a sequence of summative assessments submitted at the end of each teaching block. Students receive formative tutorials before each submission, and feedback during the first session of the following block. This helps students to build and improve skills as the syllabus progresses and distributes time spent preparing for assessments evenly throughout the year. Assessments comprise different types of written texts that enable students to use different modes of presentation, for example:

1. patchwork assessment and short written exercises (900–1,200 words) and learning reflection submission (500–700 words);
2. case study or studies (900–1,200 words);
3. essay (1,700–2,200 words).

The word count for the whole module is between 4,000–5,300 words.  

Module assessment criteria:
1. application and engagement;
2. quality of content (research, accuracy, relevance, scope);
3. quality of presentation (English, references, terminology, literacy, protocols);
4. effective structure (clarity, links, synthesis);
5. deployment of critical and analytical skills (argument, interpretation, discussion).


The Critical and Contextual Studies reading list is responsive to emergent ideas, and designed to introduce students to current debates in their discipline and a broad range of different resources. The critical analysis of recent publications and materials is supported by a set of core readings. The following list is indicative.

• Barthes, R. (2009) Mythologies, London: Vintage Press.
• Benjamin, W. (2008) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, London: Penguin.
• Berger, J. (2008) Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin.
• Munari, B. (2008) Design As Art, London: Penguin.
• Sontag, S. (2003), Regarding The Pain of Others, London: Penguin.
• Steyerl, H. (2009) In Defense of The Poor Image, Eflux:

• BBC 21st Century Mythologies:
• BBC A History of The World in 100 Objects:
• BBC 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy:

Journals, Websites and Databases
• Websites: e-flux, The Serving Library
• Electronic databases: JSTOR, Art full text
• Journals: The Journal of Illustration, Visual Communication