Good things in life often take time. In the case of pursuing accreditation from the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER), it takes an extensive commitment on the part of many individuals. The accreditation or re-accreditation process, which can vary in length from one to two years from start to finish, is comprised of specific components that have been carefully developed and refined since FIDER's founding in 1970. Site visits to the college or university that is pursuing accreditation provide an opportunity to evaluate the institution's program in a very up-close and intense way.
The three-day visits, which are profiled by day later in this article, allow a team of interior design professionals trained in FIDER's standards to review a program from A to Z. The process requires individuals who fully believe in both the importance and benefits of accreditation.
" Getting to the site visit stage of the accreditation process is not an easy proposition," says Kayem Dunn, FIDER's executive director. "Institutions invest a great deal of time to prepare for this step, which includes collecting and analyzing student work in order to complete a Program Evaluation Report (PER) among other tasks. This comprehensive self-study document provides detailed information regarding the institution's interior design program and the faculty's view of how effective they are at reaching academic goals. The self-study document is a requirement for accreditation, but it is also a learning tool for our accreditation team in advance of their visit."
Each site team has three members with varying backgrounds. Every team has an educator and a practicing professional; the third team member may be from either setting. More experienced team members serve as the team chairs and are responsible for coordinating the site visit and overseeing production of their final report in addition to partaking in the program analysis itself. The varied backgrounds of the team members ensure that the team has more than one perspective when it comes to evaluating the program.
"Site visits allow FIDER representatives to directly assess whether or not students are producing work related to the learning outcomes that have been identified," Dunn states. "Our teams invest a great deal of time and energy to prepare for, conduct and follow up in relationship to the site visits. The accreditation process wouldn't work without them."
Dunn notes that team members also have two other unwritten, but very important tasks. "The team members represent FIDER, so their conduct and presentation is very important. Equally critical is the opportunity for these individuals to represent the interior design profession to top-level administrators at these colleges and universities. It's another opportunity to convey the value of interior design and the importance of having and maintaining quality interior design programs that will produce our next generation of leaders."
FIDER has a pool of approximately 100 persons to call upon for site visits. "Individuals that want to be site visitors must complete an application, including a writing sample, furnish three reference letters and participate in an interview," says Holly Mattson, the director of accreditation for FIDER. "It's almost like pursuing a job."
Individuals accepted as site visitors go through a 11/2-day training session that covers FIDER's procedures, standards and expectations for team members. Additional learning is acquired through actual site visits. Team members are evaluated following each visit both by other team members and by personnel from the institution that is being evaluated.
" Our site visitors are an amazing group of people," Mattson says. "Site visits are typically done on weekends, so they are willing to take time away from their personal lives in addition to the time that it takes to prepare for each visit. We ask them to participate in a huge undertaking in a short amount of time."
Reasons for becoming site visitors vary, according to Mattson. The benefits that have been identified include commitment to the interior design profession, developing relationships with other professionals, the excitement of working and talking with students and the desire to learn more about various interior design programs. Thankfully for FIDER, Mattson says that most site visitors stay with the program for a number of years.
Reviewing Student Work
Cameron Stiles, CID, ASID, principal with KSA Interiors, has participated in FIDER site visits for the last six years. To her, Day One, which involves reviewing student work, is an exciting opportunity. "Reading the PER (program self-study document) before the site visit gives me an introduction to the interior design program. But it's not until I actually see the work that I begin to fully understand the program and its benefits and qualities. This begins our evaluation of the institution's teaching process, including assessing their strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. It's a stimulating time."
Stiles and her colleagues typically review between 25 to 30 projects or materials per course—enough to fill at least two classrooms if not more, and she says that organization is critical to make the evaluation process easier. Programs must display a range of materials with the goal of clearly demonstrating student learning including:
- course syllabi and handouts;
- course texts and/or custom published
- completed exams or tests with student
- assignments including objectives/purposes
- evidence of design process such as matrixes, schematics, sketches/drawings and study models;
- results of assignments including two- and three-dimensional basic creative work, drafting, design proposals, programming
documents, detailing and working documents, business documents and papers.
The work must be arranged in progression according to the sequence followed in the program and must have been done in the last four years for first time accreditation applicants.
"I take extensive notes during my review, which usually takes at least eight hours," says Stiles. "I look for answers to questions noted while reading the PER. At the same time, I identify questions that I need to have answered either through Day Two interviews or by seeing additional physical evidence. By the end of the day I've scripted what I need to address the next day."
Stiles explains that she comes back invigorated from her site visits. They provide an opportunity to see the future of interior design through the students' eyes while also bringing knowledge back to her firm. Equally important, the visits enable her to learn more about various interior design programs, a benefit when she is counseling prospective students regarding the different types of programs that are available.
Day One concludes with a team meeting to
discuss Day One findings and to prepare for the following day.
Face-to-face best describes Day Two, which consists of meetings with students and faculty while also reviewing the institution's facilities. "FIDER is very specific regarding facilities," states Annette Basinger, director of interior design for HUNT/FM Technologies. "The second day is an opportunity to visit all the facilities that are used to support the program including studios, libraries and display areas. We analyze whether the learning environment is appropriate. Does the resource library have catalogs and samples like you would find in a firm's library? We look to see if access to industry periodicals is provided. It's a day of research on many fronts."
Basinger says that talking with students is both informative and refreshing. "Students are very honest. They help us to answer questions that we may have identified while also being very candid about the program's strengths and areas for improvement. Faculty interviews provide another opportunity to gain additional information."
For example, one critical element that FIDER looks for is an understanding of how interior design affects and is affected by building
systems. Some knowledge may sometimes be difficult to understand in the visual displays— say knowing how the septic system works. The interviews allow site team members to confirm whether or not this body of knowledge is being both taught and grasped by students.
" Day Two is really our last time to assess the program and its components," Basinger concludes. "From here we meet for the evening, often late into the night, to prepare for our presentation the last day. What we do in the middle of our visit is really our last opportunity to make sure that we haven't missed anything while also confirming that what FIDER requires is there in the program."
The student work and facility reviews have been conducted and the interviews are concluded. Now it's time for the team's presentation to the institutional administrators, such as the president or provost, as well as the interior design faculty.
"We must come into Day Three having reached consensus as a team," says Dr. Josette H. Rabun, professor of interior design at the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design. "Fortunately, that's never been very hard to do."
Rabun, who has served both as a site team member and as a team leader, has made FIDER site visits since 1984. During that time she has witnessed the opportunities that are associated with Day Three. "As interior designers we have a forum for showcasing the value of our profession to the school's top leadership. While we're saying thank you for their hospitality, we're also commending them for the institution's investment in interior design. It's an opportunity that we take advantage of to the fullest extent possible."
Rabun and other team members present their findings on the interior design program to the administration first before going to the interior design faculty. The head of the interior design program may sit in on the first presentation or may wait until the meeting with the interior
design faculty. The meeting includes heralding the program's strengths and identifying areas for improvement.
The faculty meeting can sometimes be emotional, according to Rabun. "As educators we put our lives into both our programs and our students. It's not uncommon to see a faculty member shed a few tears when they hear positives about their area. We give them an outside validation of the high quality of work they are doing, which, unfortunately, they may not hear often enough. I have the opportunity as a site visitor to build up my peers while also helping them to provide the best program possible."
Why They Do What They Do
Keith Hooks, Keith Hooks Design + Architecture, is the current chair of FIDER's accreditation commission and sums up the reason that interior designers enthusiastically participate in site visits. "We are put into an environment where we form bonds in a short amount of time with professionals that we might not meet otherwise. But the best part is the students. Over the years I've watched them become more aware of the importance of the quality of their education, of accreditation and what is happening with certification and the role that FIDER plays in these areas. Once they're informed they come to demand more of their programs.
"The best way for an institution to understand the value of accreditation is to have it well up from the target pool of potential students who demand an interior design program that has achieved success in meeting a very stringent set of standards," he continues. "You can't place a value on being part of the process and seeing the benefits that it brings to the profession of interior design."