On Target: mid-term evaluations improve course content and kindle student engagement

By Matthew Champagne, Ph.D
Embedded Assessment

MattC LinkedIn imageMatthew Champagne, Ph.D. has influenced the practice of evaluation and assessment in higher education and learning organizations for nearly 20 years. As an instructor, Senior Research Fellow, evaluator, consultant, and serial entrepreneur, Dr. Champagne has created and implemented innovative feedback technologies in hundreds of organizations across every industry, including clean energy. Matt is providing expert guidance in metrics collection and evaluation for the GEARED project. ed

Nearly all course and instructor evaluations are conducted as autopsies: wait until the training is over to gather data to determine what went wrong. This “autopsy approach” was simply not acceptable for newly developed and modified GEARED courses concerned with engaging students in solar-related topics.

GEARED instructors are leading the way in rapidly improving course content, course delivery, and student engagement WHILE training is still in session and while it still matters to students.

In addition to the typical end-of-term evaluation form, during the Spring 2015 semester, GEARED instructors at six universities administered “midstream evaluations” in 11 courses, asking students for their feedback while the course was still in session. Instructors chose either the paper form or online version of a 16-item measure of 12 key criteria. The items were crafted to represent the criteria most often addressed in course evaluations and included comment boxes designed to solicit specific and relevant answers that would help improve the course. Three of the instructors added their own course-specific questions to the midstream form.

The 11 courses had a wide range of complexity, including team-taught courses, online/face-to-face hybrid courses, collaborative courses taught simultaneously at three universities, and courses with a mix of undergraduate and graduate students.

Once the midstream evaluation was completed by students on paper or online, the results were tabulated within 48 hours and at-a-glance reports generated. Instructors could then open the next class period by reading selected findings and representative comments to their students. This “close-the-loop” approach was conducted to: (1) ensure students realized their voice was heard; (2) educate students on the wide range of classmate opinions; (3) establish the importance of feedback to get higher response rates and more meaningful feedback on the end-of-term evaluation; and (4) increase student satisfaction knowing that their individual concerns were either discussed or addressed.

What if all colleges and universities did this?

Sadly, in a national survey (Champagne, Nicholas & Schepman, 2013), only seven percent of U.S. colleges and universities administer midterm evaluations. This meager result is more baffling considering both (1) the enormous benefits of midterm feedback for students and instructors in terms of improvements in satisfaction, learning, and course environment, and (2) the ease in which student feedback can be immediately gathered via mobile devices and social platforms and immediately analyzed using numerous free or inexpensive software.

Gathering and sharing feedback while courses are still in session offers the best opportunity for students and instructors to succeed. Students have a greater opportunity to be enthusiastic about solar. Obstacles to learning are fewer while an environment where instructors and students engage with each other is nurtured and the focus is on continually improving course delivery.

Doable? Absolutely.

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