Another dot in the blogosphere?

Neither valid nor reliable

Posted on: December 11, 2020

I have never placed much weight on end of course feedback. This was even if the results of such data was favourable. Why? My knowledge research on such feedback and my experiences with the design of questions hold me back.

In my Diigo library is a small sample of studies that highlight how there is gender, racial, and other bias in end of course feedback tools. These make the data invalid. The feedback forms do not measure what they purport to measure, i.e., the effectiveness of instruction, because students are influenced by distractors.

Another way that feedback forms are not valid is in their design. They are typically created by administrators who have different concerns from instructors. The latter are rarely, if at all, consulted on the questions in the forms. As a result, students might be asked questions that are not relevant.

For example, take one such question I spotted recently: The components of the module, such as class activities, assessments, and assignments, were consistent with the course objectives. This seems like a reasonable question and it is an important one to both administrator and instructor.

An administrator wants alignment particularly if a course is to be audited externally or to be benchmarked against other similar offerings elsewhere. An instructor needs to justify that the components are relevant a course. However, there are at least three problems with such a question.

First, the objectives are not as important as outcomes. Objectives are theoretical and focus on planning and teaching while outcomes practical and emerge from implementation and learning. Improvement: Focus on outcomes.

The second problem is that it will only take one component — an activity, an assessment, or an assignment — to throw the question off. The student also has the choice to focus on one, two, or three components. Improvement: Each component needs to be its own question.

Third, not all components might be valid. Getting personal, one of the modules I facilitate has no traditional or formal assessment or assignments. The student cannot gauge a non-existent component, so the question is not valid. Improvement: Customise end of course forms to suit the modules.

Another broad problem with feedback forms is that they are not reliable. The same questions can be asked of different batches of students, and assuming that nothing else changes, the average ratings can vary wildly. This is a function of the inability to control for learner expectations and a lack of reliability testing for each question.

End of course evaluations are convenient to organisers of courses and modules, but they are pedagogically unsound and lazy. I would rely more on critical reflection of instructors and facilitators, as well as their ability to collect formative feedback during a course to make changes.

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