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module specification

CP4011 - Critical & Contextual Studies 1 (3D) (2022/23)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2022/23
Module title Critical & Contextual Studies 1 (3D)
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 2022/23

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

Module summary

Critical and Contextual Studies 1 is an inter-disciplinary module taught across all disciplines in the AAD 3D subject area, including Design Studio Practice, Fashion, Fashion Accessories, Jewellery, Furniture and Product Design, and Textile Design. The module aims to orient and critically engage students in the history and theory of their respective disciplines, their scope, conventions, and 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 (LOs 1-5). 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:

The Everyday  L.O 1 - 5

The first block of study asks students to reflect on the objects with which they surround themselves and how those help shape their identities. The focus here is on the weekly blog activity: students will be asked to bring in an artefact or an image each week and to write about it, drawing on information and ideas provided in lectures, seminars and in their self-directed study undertaken in preparation for each weekly session. There will also be a number of visits and walks, using London as an extended classroom. All of this will increase students’ confidence in discussing and writing about familiar things, but interrogating them by using new ideas, concepts and histories. Lectures will provide generic materials on that week’s theme, which students will then discuss in discipline-specific groups, often using readings tailored to their specific disciplines. Study skills, focused around the assessment, will be embedded in the weekly seminar activities.

Taste  L.O  1 - 5

This block is intended to build on some of the ideas and approaches introduced in the first block and in particular continues to invite students to focus on their own experience as a repository for thinking about their design practice. Weekly lectures, seminars and visits will develop knowledge and critical understanding of the concept of ‘taste’, using key examples from design histories.  Visits to London museums and galleries will help further to problematise the idea of ‘taste’, while exposing students to a range of artefacts and institutional strategies for framing designed objects. The case study assessment requires students to reflect on an aspect of their everyday life, but subjecting it to a critically-informed approach to issues of design, social status and practices of consumption.

Contemporary Design Practice  L.O 1 - 5

The final block builds on the two previous blocks and in particular students’ roles as both producers and consumers. The issue of ‘craft versus design’ will enable students to problematise their own practice in seminar discussions. Lectures, seminars, guided walks and visits will provide information and ideas but in this final block there is a move towards a more self-directed approach to study.  The assessment is framed as a book review and students will choose a book dealing with contemporary design practice and review it as if for an academic publication. In the seminars, students will consider different modes of writing and their purposes, and the focus will shift from study skills towards critical thinking to help with the process of reviewing.

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 its 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 written feedback before 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 and visual 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).


Core Readings
• Clark, H. & Brody, D. (2009) Design Studies: a Reader Oxford: Berg
• Lees-Maffei, G. & Houze, R. (eds) (2010) The Design History Reader Oxford: Berg

Further Readings
• Adamson, G. (2007) Thinking through Craft Oxford: Berg
• Adamson, G. (2013) The Invention of Craft London: Bloomsbury
• Adamson, G. (ed.) (2010) The Craft Reader Oxford: Berg
• Barnard, M. (ed.) (2007) Fashion Theory: a Reader London: Routledge
• Boradkar, P. (2010) Designing Things: A Critical Introduction to the Culture of Objects Oxford: Berg
• Candlin, F. & Guins, R. (eds) (2009) The Object Reader Abingdon: Routledge
• Cheasley Paterson, E. & Surette, S. (2015) Sloppy Craft: Postdiciplinarity and the Crafts London: Bloomsbury
• Craik, J. (2009) Fashion: the Key Concepts Oxford: Berg
• Dormer, P. (ed.) (1997) The Culture of Craft Manchester: MUP
• Hemmings, J. (ed.) (2012) The Textile Reader London: Bloomsbury
• Heskett, J. (2002) Design: a very short Introduction Oxford: OUP
• Norman, D. A. (1988) The Design of Everyday Things New York: Basic Books
• Norman, D.A. (2004) Emotional Design: Why we Love (or Hate) Everyday Things New York: Basic Books
• Palmer, J. & Dodgson, M. (eds) (1996) Design and Aesthetics: a Reader London: Routledge
• Williams, G. (2014) How to write about Contemporary Art London: Thames & Hudson
• Woodham, J.M. (1997) Twentieth-Century Design Oxford: OUP

Journals, Websites and Databases
• Deezeen (web)
• Journal of Design History