The Teaching Hub advisory board got together this fall to discuss course evaluation strategies.a mid-twentieth century seminar class Faculty may wish to better determine whether or not to make changes in their courses that would help students learn more effectively. The conversation began quite humorously when we shared our experiences of the discursive comments section in the Student Opinions of Instruction (SOI). The questions around the table may be familiar to you:

  • Were we in the same classroom?
  • Do my hair and clothes really matter?
  • Am I really a complete jerk?
  • Why did no one speak to me about being a poorly-dressed jerk who was teaching in the wrong classroom?

Perhaps these questions reflect how a course just didn’t “gel” for some students.

Our conversation then became much more serious as we discussed more substantive issues related to student opinions about their learning. These questions may also be familiar:

  • How and why did students experience challenges in the course?
  • What did students learn about organizing themselves to get the most out of the course?
  • Did students feel a sense of accomplishment?
  • Was the course relevant to the lives of my students?
  • How does my course relate to others? Is there a way to break down the SOI data for anonymous comparison?
  • Is there anything about this course that will ‘stick’ in five or ten years?
  • If someone didn’t get the grade they wanted, what might they do next time?

coal miner with canaryWhile the SOI usefully functions as the proverbial canary in the coalmine for a variety of people within an institution, many faculty regularly experience a need to find actionable feedback on their teaching. After all, those other folks in the institution are sometimes interested to know whether and how faculty plan to improve their teaching. Indeed, sometimes the questions put to students do not align with the learning goals and objectives faculty set for their courses.

What may faculty do in order to better learn about how students experience their teaching? How might faculty gather student opinions of learning? The members of the advisory board offer a few suggestions of what we do:

  • Enable students to realize they have learned something by deploying a pre-test and then giving the same test at a later point in the term.
  • Determine students’ expectations for learning with a first-week survey, and then re-circulate a version of that survey at mid-term.
  • Help students examine their learning experience with reflective assignments whose prompts ask students to create a narrative about what they are learning, such as:
    • How is the course different from what you expected?
    • What did you learn about yourself in the course?
    • What topics related to this course are you likely to continue exploring?
  • Encourage self-reflection by having students do a “start-stop-continue” exercise around mid-term.
  • Introduce students to metacognition with reflection questions in regular assignments.
  • Find out what students are thinking with CATs (classroom assessment techniques) and report back with findings in subsequent class sessions.

The point here is to shift focus towards students’ learning experiences rather than only considering their opinions of your instruction. Examining and considering your students’ learning experiences in these ways can help everyone in the course. These  measures provide but one more way for your students to realize just how invested you are in their learning.  And, because of this, your students may better understand how learning in your course is useful in their future academic and professional endeavors. You may find unexplored areas to emphasize or discover workable adjustments during the course of the term. Or, you may be able to design improvements in future iterations of your teaching.

Furthermore and finally, these measures provide evidence to others in your institution that you are invested in your profession as a professor in higher education.

Do you employ similar strategies in your courses? The Hub Advisory Board would really enjoy hearing from you.