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Pilot course evaluation underway

New system would help maintain consistent evaluation methods across the university
March 7, 2011
By Karen Herland
Source: Concordia Journal

“We want to shift from rate my professor to rate my learning,” says Vice Provost Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens of the course evaluation system his office is piloting based on the recommendation of a working group on the assessment of teaching. This pilot project to test whether the new instrument is appropriate for use at Concordia is currently entering its second semester.

Currently, students are asked to complete course evaluations offering feedback on everything from a professor’s expertise and course management skills to classroom facilities and the level of student/professor contact available.

The stakes are high since data from these evaluations has an impact on professors’ careers.

The working group, led by Dyens with representatives from all four Faculties, submitted a report October 2010. The report stressed the desire for a better evaluation system that is flexible enough to address different types of teaching styles and classroom experience (from lab to studio) and that stresses progress on attaining learning objectives (for example, the development of critical thinking skills or the ability to work in teams).

After considering a range of options, the working group has suggested the Short Form developed by the non-profit IDEA Center at Kansas State University, along with a series of additional measures to help committees and faculty members better assess the complex process of teaching. IDEA’s system has been tested for over three decades and is currently used by hundreds of educational institutions, according to Dyens. The Short Form includes 18 questions covering a range of learning objectives and can incorporate additional questions to reflect Faculty or departmental priorities. Professors select the learning objectives on which they want to be evaluated.

Dyens is among the 50 professors (teaching 85 classes with more than 5,000 students) participating in the pilot project. Both professors and students using the IDEA evaluation are being surveyed about their experiences. Professors who agree to try the course evaluation are given the option to exclude the results from their teaching dossier.

The working group’s recommendations were based on a literature review and analysis of best practices elsewhere which clearly indicated that the assessment of teaching should be holistic and based on multiple sources of input.

Dyens understands full well why some faculty members have expressed concerns over an instrument that focuses on the progress students think they have made. To address these concerns, Dyens has invited Steve Benton, Senior Researcher at the IDEA Center, to address the Concordia community during the month of March.

The IDEA system is an online tool. He is highly aware of concerns about lower participation rates registered in some parts of the university with the switch from in class to online course evaluations. “These are very legitimate concerns. We are considering a series of measures to address them—among these, a hybrid system where students would complete online forms either on laptops or on their smartphones while in class.”

Results from this pilot project will be presented to Faculty Councils. Alternatives to the IDEA form may also be considered and tested.

Related links:
•   Assessment of Teaching Working Group Report 
•   The IDEA Center
•   Concordia Centre for Teaching and Learning Services

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