Course evaluation

Evaluating a course

Evaluation needs to be a formative process that influences student learning, not a merely an institutional process done at the end of a course 'to' both academics and students.

Evaluation is not only about students, but needs to consider all stakeholders.

Eye One view on evaluation

"I think that the best approach is to come at evaluation 'sideways'... we use the same approach when we interview young children; you can never ask them directly about the subject or they tell you what they think you want to hear. Rather you ask about something that they relate to that takes you to the subject. If you ask direct questions you get skewed results based on what it is they think you want... it's about power. 

I think the best way is to ask students about their own learning, and their own perception of their progress.

So questions like "How do you think you are going? How have you been challenged? Do you think your understanding of the content is getting better?" offer opportunities for students to signal problems early and you a chance to address them early. 

David Birbeck

Two big issues with the UniSA formal evaluation tool (MyCourseExperience) are the low response rates, and the problem of how to influence students' perception of the course and the teaching to obtain appropriate recognition. 

Extensive 'help' resources such as how to set open and close dates access to the list of additional questions can be found here.


Action research and continuous evaluation

This type of evaluation involves assessing a course as it is actually running, and reflecting continually on their own actions, with the aim of improving 'on the go', rather than waiting for the next iteration of the course.

John Hattie argued that for improvements to happen in the classroom, it is critical that teachers have the right mind frame to become effective evaluators of their own practice; in fact, effective continual evaluation is one of the few elements in a classroom which does lead to noticeable increase in student learning. 

"Effective teachers change what is happening when learning is not occurring... An effective teacher makes calculated interventions, and provides students with multiple opportunities and alternatives to learn, at both surface and deep levels." (Hattie, J 2011, Visible learning for teachers.)

Ellie Chambers & Marshall Gregory have written on the process of 'action research' to evaluate courses and teaching, in their book Evaluating Teaching: Future Trends, in the book Teaching & Learning English Literature.  They talk about the ways in which teachers can satisfy themselves about their courses and performance, quite separately from the formal evaluation processes the institution has put in place. 

Action research means that teachers investigate and reflect on courses of action to improve various elements of their course  and compare the aims and intentions to what actually happened on the ground, by continual monitoring of the student engagement and progress, by peer and student review, and by careful consideration of conflicting feedback. 


Strategies to help with course evaluation

The following concertina presentation lists some ideas and tips which may help you with evaluation. Just click on the three headings. 


Useful links, readings and references

This is a presentation prepared by David Birbeck for a workshop on evaluation. 

Course evaluations (1.6 MB)

If you want to publish your evaluation findings these are the two documents you need to read first.

Guidelines for evaluation activities involving UniSA students and staff (588 KB)

UniSA policy on access to data (195 KB)

Zabaleta, F. (2007). The use and misuse of student evaluations of teaching. Teaching in Higher education, 12(1), 55–76.

Macdonald, R. (2006). The use of evaluation to improve practice in learning and teaching. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 43(1), 3–13.

Baldwin, C., Chandran, L., & Gusic, M. (2011). Guidelines for Evaluating the Educational Performance of Medical School Faculty: Priming a National Conversation Teaching and learning in medicine, 23(3), 285–97. doi:10.1080/10401334.2011.586936