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February 26, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Architecturally Unsound – Masters Thesis Seriously Mishandled by Architecture School

Architecture students have raised serious concerns about the changes made to the Masters course between 2016 and 2017. The final yearrequirement of a Master of Architecture was changed from ARCH 591 (Thesis) to ARCI 593 (Architecture Research Portfolio), which significantly changed the course structure and marking criteria.

Throughout 2016 and 2017 a number of students had expressed concerns to both the Architecture faculty and VUWSA that the requirements for their work were not clearly communicated and that the changes were poorly implemented. An ARCI 593 Masters student called the handling of the course throughout the whole year “sloppy”.

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5th year Architecture classroom (VS.301 ANNEX)

In late 2016, concerns were initially raised when students accepted into the course were not given a course outline. The lack of course outline breaches the Masters Thesis Policy, which states that “all candidates enrolled in a research portfolio must be provided with a portfolio outline, prior to the commencement of their registration”.

In 2015, when students enrolled for a two year Architecture Masters course, Masters students were led to believe they would be enrolling in ARCI 591, because ARCI 593 did not yet exist. In early October 2016, the Architecture school made an announcement regarding commencement of the new 593 course. Students were told there was an option to enrol in the previous year’s course through an application process, an option which is still being touted as available on Victoria University’s website. However, applicants for 591 had to give their reasoning in person for wanting to enrol in the old course, which was scheduled over the summer break, so many students were unable to attend. An anonymous student told Salient that no one they knew were permitted to take 591. “They made you feel like you had a choice, when really you didn’t,” they said. According the Architecture school, only six students were accepted into the 591 course.

Students had only been made aware in late September 2016 about the change from a thesis to a research portfolio, according to emails sent between Masters students and VUWSA staff. When students applied for Masters in October 2015, they were led to believe that they would be completing a Thesis (ARCH591), as was outlined in their contracts.

A class representative wrote an email to VUWSA saying that “it has been suggested that this sudden change in our degree structure may be a breach of ethics”.

In May 2017 the first official concern was raised to the Faculty of Graduate Research by an individual student on speaking  behalf of the Masters class. As far as Salient is aware no response was given by either the Faculty of Graduate Research or the Architecture school.

In a Q&A meeting between students and a representative from the Architecture school, occurring on 25 October 2016, which addressed students’ concerns, class representatives agreed the reasoning behind the changes to the course had in fact been clearly communicated. It was mentioned however, that many students still had complaints about details missing from the course outline, and requested that the details be filled in as soon as possible. Specifically, students stated that the assessment criteria and weighting were not clear.

In a later Q&A meeting occuring in December 2016, representatives from the Architecture school suggested that some details of the course could not be provided because they had not been finalised. The school’s learning and teaching committee discussed that “they were still working on assessment weightings and criteria for assessment”.

In a consultation in August 2017, students have also voiced concerns about the major ambiguities in assessment structure of the final critical presentation, which is worth 75% of their grade.They complained that the time allowed and the size of the space for presenting was not clear, and the selection process for external moderators had not been made transparent.

One student who spoke to Salient said that previous information given to them had indicated that they would have a full 30 minutes for pre-prepared remarks. The student only received an email the day before their presentation confirming that the presentation would be limited to 20 minutes of pre-prepared remarks, with 10 minutes for questions. By then they had already prepared for the full thirty minutes and had little time to edit their presentation. The student told Salient that the short notice left them unable to complete a portion of their presentation, which was reflected negatively in the feedback they received with their grade.

Dr Morten Gjerde, Head of Architecture School defended the course. He said “In terms of student performance and quality of student work to date, I believe the course has been implemented successfully. I acknowledge that some students may have felt a lack of clarity in requirements during the year. Those instances are what we’re seeking to address with the changes we are implementing.”

A focus group of roughly twenty Masters students was held by VUWSA in December 2017. The feedback from this was collated into several recommendations to the Architecture school, one of which was a request for an official apology to students. The Architecture faculty has yet to respond to any of these recommendations. A student said that “acknowledgement from the school that they mishandled the course and an apology would be really great”.

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