Another dot in the blogosphere?

Improving course evaluations

Posted on: December 5, 2019

I object to end-of-course student evaluations, particularly if the course is, say, only two sessions deep. Heck, they can happen at the end of a half semester (after about six sessions) or a full semester (about double the number of sessions) and I would still object.

This not because I got poor results when I was a teaching faculty member. Quite the opposite. I had flattering scores that were often just shy of perfect tens in a variety of courses I used to facilitate.

No, I object to such evaluations because they rarely are valid instruments. While they might seem to be about the effectiveness of the course, they are not. These evaluations are administrative and ranking tools for deciding which courses and faculty to keep.

Course evaluations are also not free from bias. Even if the questions are objective, the participants of the questionnaire are not. One of the biggest problems with end-of-course evaluations are that they can be biased against women instructors [1] [2] [3].

I would rather focus on student learning processes and evidence of learning. Such insights are not clearly and completely observable from what are essentially perception surveys.

If administrators took a leaf from research methodology, they might also include classroom observations, interviews, discourse analysis (e.g, of interactions), and artefact analysis (e.g., of lesson plans, resources, assignments, and projects).

But these are too much trouble to conduct, so administrators settle for shortcuts. Make no mistake, such questionnaires can be reliable when repeated over time, but they are not valid for what they purport to measure.

Some might say that end-of-course evaluations are a necessary evil. If so, they could be improved to focus on processes and products of learning. This article by Faculty Focus has these suggestions.

Article by Faculty Focus has these suggestions for questionnaires that focus on processes and products of learning.

Are there any takers?

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