module specification

CP5021 - Critical and Contextual Studies 2 (Visual Communication) (2021/22)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2021/22
Module title Critical and Contextual Studies 2 (Visual Communication)
Module level Intermediate (05)
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%   Essay
Coursework 33%   Case Study
Coursework 34%   Essay
Running in 2021/22
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year City Thursday Afternoon

Module summary

Critical and Contextual Studies 2 continues 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. It builds on studies undertaken in Level 4 and prepares students as independent thinkers, capable of selecting an appropriate topic and producing a sustained piece of independent study in the form of a dissertation in Level 6.

The module continues to situate the student within the process of constructing knowledge about their discipline, its history, context, and its professional and ethical dimension. It rehearses the analytical and discursive skills students need to become knowledgeable about the authorities, objects and methods in their field; to understand the roles, locations and responsibilities of important players whilst examining the broader ethical questions relevant to their discipline; and to become conversant with current debates across the subject area. This process may be approached from the point of view of the producer or consumer, the critic or the professional, the academic or the practitioner.

Students are encouraged to think creatively and to take responsibility for the development of their own learning. The module recognises that the student is also an active contributor in the process: what students bring to the construction of knowledge counts – and how effectively they construct this knowledge depends on how well they understand the field of their discipline.

Prior learning requirements

Completion and pass (120 credits) or prior level


The module offers a sequence of three intensive teaching blocks structured to include: surveys in the history of the discipline, research and writing workshops, seminars, library sessions, visits and tours in addition to guided independent learning. Each of these blocks culminates in a summative assessment. Assessments include a range of different modes of written assignments such as presentations, case studies and essays. 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.

Representation and Identity  L.O 1-5
This block will question the responsibilities and ethics concerning the representation of identities and communities in illustration, graphic design and publishing practice. Students will use methods of primary research to identify and critically probe both positive and problematic modes of representation in practice and contemporary contexts.

Protest and Identity  L.O 1-5
This block will investigate how illustration, graphic design and publishing are used to communicate key political, social, economic and environmental messages in both historical and contemporary contexts. Students will critically evaluate the relationship between application of practice, content and audience using key texts, histories and theories in addition to images, designs, archival material and records of protest.

Expanding Practice  L.O 1-5
This block will support students in expanding their creative practice through identifying relevant theories, practitioners, topics and material processes. Students will deepen their knowledge through critical analysis of texts and images that are fundamental to situating their developing practice in the wider context of visual communication.

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 research and formulate a comparative knowledge of different aspects of their discipline, its specialisms and broader contexts; and to distinguish how their work relates to and arises from previous work in their discipline;
2. deploy critical and analytical skills in oral and written discussions; and to develop, structure and communicate an argument or similarly rigorous and evidenced line of enquiry;
3. produce cogent oral, visual and written presentations, using appropriate scholarly methods, conventions and protocols;
4. demonstrate an understanding of the ethical and professional responsibilities appropriate to their practice;
5. demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the theories and practices of visual communication and its creative application.

Assessment strategy

The module is assessed in 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 and modes of presentation, for example:

1. essay (2,500 – 3,000 words);
2. case study (1,000 – 1,500 words);
3. the third assessment item includes a written component and be equivalent in ambition, scope and scale to the essay or case study and rehearse skills required for the dissertation the following year.

The word-count for the whole module is between 4,000–7,500 words. The order of assessment types is not developmental.

Overall module assessment criteria:

1. breadth and depth of knowledge of an aspect of the subject area;
2. clarity and coherence in presenting an argument or similarly rigorous line of enquiry;
3. deployment of critical and analytical skills in oral and written discussions;
4. cogency of oral/visual and written presentations, and appropriate use of scholarly methods, conventions and protocols;
5. understanding of critical context, ethical dimensions, and the broader construction and limits of knowledge.


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. (1977) in Image Music Text; ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’ pg 32 – 50, Harper Collins.
• Crow, D. (2007) Visible Signs, London: Ava.
• Hall, S. (1997) in Representation: cultural representation and signifying practices; ‘The Spectacle of the Other’ pg 225 – 290, London: Sage.
• Mulvey, L. (2009) iin Visual and Other Pleasures; ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
• Sontag, S. (1970) Posters: advertisements, art, political artefact, commodity, Pall Mall Press.
• Tancons, C (2011) ‘Occupy Wall Street’, Available on e-flux:

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