Non-Teaching, Pedagogy

Form *still* ever follows function

As I’m making last minutes preparations to administer my Fall Trimester final exams tomorrow, I thought I’d go ahead and create a procedure for my students to follow so that they don’t get confused about what materials they’re allowed to use for different parts of my test. The reason this is an issue is because my essay question is one where students have to compare two different articles and I want them to have the articles and their annotations handy in order to make an effective and evidence-rich argument. However, the point of this post isn’t so much to explain my test format and rationale (though the former is something the really dedicated will be able to glean from what is to follow), but instead to talk about how design can really affect the effectiveness of these types of instructions.

Louis Sullivan famously coined the phrase 'for...

Louis Sullivan, courtesy of Wikipedia

So, what follows again proves the great American architect Louis Sullivan’s famous dictum that “form ever follows function.”

Here’s the first version of my instruction/procedure sheet that I made for the final:

My primary thought process in creating this assignment sheet was to provide students a clear set of linear steps that would be distinct and hopefully clear. I asked my wife, who is quite the typographical/design wizard, to read it over and see if it made sense. She vouched for the fact that the steps made sense, but thought I should redesign it to make the organizing principle the different parts of the test and rather than different steps.

So, I took her up on the challenge and came up with my revised version:

What do people think? Does the revised version much more effectively communicate what students should do for the different parts of this test? If nothing else, I think the revised version looks much cleaner and also makes better use of different design elements (shading; various fonts) than the first version.

We’ll find out tomorrow if all my typographical wrangling nips questions about procedure in the bud before they happen. For my own (and Louis Sullivan’s) sake, I’m hoping it will!

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