Pluto: Supporting Visual Making through an Online Critique and Reference Aggregation Platform


Our workshop examines how students apply visual criticism from formal critiques and informal feedback to their working methodologies and creative practices through the use of a purpose-built, online platform for critique aggregation, reference collection, and self-discovery. During our session, we will explore the ideas behind our development of this online tool; share our experiences using this platform in our communication design classrooms to facilitate student reflection and growth; and with workshop participants, build upon digital processes that can enhance students’ creative making abilities.


20 min: A hands-on introduction to Pluto, an online tool for critique aggregation, reference collection, and self-discovery.

20 min: Open discussion of the experiences/results of using Pluto in an undergraduate communication design setting to facilitate self-reflection and growth.

50 min: Interactive session for workshop participants to share their pedagogical practices related to critiques, giving feedback/references, and student growth. Presenters will facilitate an exploration of these practices and test Pluto, hands-on, against these ideas. A rapid prototyping session will follow to propose solutions to extend the usefulness of the platform and its methodologies.


The majority of our workshop will be dedicated to both an open discussion and structured exploration of the pedagogical practices related to critiques and feedback. Throughout the workshop, participants will be asked to share their personal observations and experiences which will form the basis of a common paradigm. Participants are invited to individually test their practices against the digital tool, Pluto, within the workshop. Finally, presenters will organize participants with similar needs into small groups to facilitate a rapid prototyping session for the platform to develop solutions that will address the participant’s needs.


Visual arts and design students lack a centralized repository for the feedback and critiques that they accumulate over the course of their creative education. Moreover, they lack the tools and scaffolds to evaluate and analyze such feedback as they struggle to become better makers. Pluto is a purpose-built, online digital platform designed with these needs in mind and can be used to lower the barriers for students to reflect upon their practice and access personal sources of knowledge.


The pedagogical practices surrounding critiques/feedback that are shared by workshop participants will be used to inform and refine the digital strategy for the Pluto ecosystem. In addition, the rapidly prototyped solutions will be used to develop the next iteration of the platform. Participants will be encouraged to test Pluto within their own classrooms and evaluate its efficacy. We hope to build off of the dialog established at the workshop to form a working community of educators sharing similar methods of using digital technology to help students become better creative makers.


Within the creative disciplines of visual arts and design, a student’s growth and development is predicated on their response to and reflection of qualitative feedback and constructive criticism from their peers and instructors. Under ideal conditions, students internalize these lessons and apply them to their future work. The content of such interactions, including ongoing project assessments, inspirational references, and directions for growth, is not formal enough to be captured by learning management systems and is often lost among various communication platforms like email, chat, forums, or backchannels. Additionally, tools like learning portfolios seek to record and assess growth of the student through the curated collection of artifacts. Although undoubtedly useful, we believe that a complementary method is needed to support students during their everyday process of making, self-reflection, and discovery inside and outside of the classroom.

This ‘reverse-learning portfolio’ is a platform that is built around process and self-discovery. We have been building and testing such a web-based application called Pluto to allow students to aggregate, organize, and reflect on feedback and critiques across projects, classes, and time. Our workshop will demonstrate how we have used Pluto within our classrooms, share our experiences with using these digitized critiques and references, and connect these experiences with those of workshop participants to rapidly prototype and expand this model.

Through our user research and experience as educators, students have repeatedly remarked that there is no personal, centralized repository for retroactively accessing and evaluating project feedback and inspirational references across their art and design classes. Without a useful scaffold, they rely on memory, haphazard notes, and vague intuition to discern the steps needed to become a better designer and maker. Their concerns go beyond a particular assignment and often indicate their apprehensions of ‘making it’ in the real world. This experience is true regardless of whether a student consistently struggles or performs well in their classes.

With self-regulation being an important aspect for academic learning and creative achievement, we have designed Pluto around several key goals:

  1. Enable self-reflection by aggregating feedback/critiques from teachers/peers and by building connections across projects, courses, and time.
  2. Strengthen the process of self-discovery and growth for every maker by giving them access to personal sources of knowledge.
  3. Promote life-long learning and inquiry by creating a personal library of resources and inspirational references.

In addition to demonstrating our experiences with Pluto, our workshop will also ask participants to share pedagogical practices, both analog and digital, that they have successfully utilized to help students become better makers. This exchange of knowledge will inform the idea of a digital ecosystem tailored to helping students become better creative practitioners. Through our workshop, we hope to learn how Pluto can integrate into these ecosystems of learning and support such efforts.