In the original 'Improving Student Learning' project led by Prof Graham Gibbs in 1991, one of the case studies focused on approaches to learning on a BA(Hons) Graphic Information Design course. The case study, led by Allan Davies, had the modest intention of trying to determine whether a particular
curriculum innovation encouraged a deep approach to learning. Our only significant tool then was Bigg's SOLO taxonomy. Eleven years later and the innovators have moved on, the course has disappeared and the research context and methodologies have developed. During this period, research
has suggested that both teachers and students describe their understanding of teaching and learning
according to their perception of the teaching/ learning environment (Ramsden, 1992; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). Studies have identified variation in the way that teachers experience teaching (Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992; Prosser, Trigwell & Taylor, 1994 for example) and variation in the way teachers experience student learning (Bruce & Gerber, 1995).
More recently, Reid (1997) has widened the context of research by examining the relation between the
experience of work and teaching/learning within the music discipline. In further research (Reid 1999),
relations were found within the music discipline where teachers' and students' experience of one of three defined dimensions was strongly related to the ways in which they understood teaching and learning music. The musicians (and their students) described their experience of the professional world in three hierarchically related ways. This constitution has become known as the 'Music' Entity.
In 1999, following a fortuitous meeting at the ISL conference in York, Davies and Reid conducted a joint
enquiry, using a phenomenographic approach, to determine the 'Design' entity (Davies and Reid, 2001). This research focused on discerning the critical differences, or variation, in the way teachers and students experience and understand their subject and its relation to the professional design world. The outcomes of this research has, consequently, begun to impact on student learning through course design and, in particular, assessment. This paper will be a comparative study of the research already carried out by the authors in a number of disciplines in which the same focus and methodology has been used.