Course Evaluations and Their Uses- Initial Thoughts

It surprises me that we haven’t yet made a post about course evaluations. Perhaps because this blog focuses more on preparing to teach and then actually teaching a course, we have paid relatively little attention to date to what happens at the end of a course besides handing out grades.

It is important, however, to pay attention to course evaluations, because they play such a significant role in tools that teachers can use to self-evaluate, but also because administrations use them to evaluate teaching effectiveness. This latter point is incredibly important for those who are in a tenure-track position, but also important for all others whose performance will be measured in part through course evaluations.

For starters, please read the article “How to Use Student Evaluations Wisely” by Professor David D. Perlmutter,, Dean of the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University.

In it, he discusses how such evaluations can be and are used both by administrators as well as by faculty. In future posts, I will discuss my take on course evaluations and address some of the points Professor Perlmutter makes.

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Pedagogy Now! Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques

Thanks to everyone who attended our CAA workshop, Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques. We had a great time presenting and got a lot of feedback through all the fabulous questions and comments.
As promised, here is our powerpoint presentation PDF. Please feel free to give us any feedback, to ask us questions via the blog or email, or to ask us to address particular issues in the blog. We are also happy to come to your school to do a workshop tailored to your program’s needs. Contact us here:

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Grading Rubric for Studio Art Visual Thesis

In the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art, Fine Arts majors are required to spend their entire senior year working on their thesis projects. These projects consist of two parts: the written thesis and the visual thesis. )For information on the rubric for the written thesis, click this link.)

The Senior Thesis Seminar course is set up to provide guidance and support for the seniors as they actualize their projects. This course has three learning outcomes, one of which is directly related to the visual work they are doing:

“Students will demonstrate substantial professional accomplishment in a coherent body of artwork through exhibition in DAAPWorks.” (Ed. The title of the senior end-of-year show.)

Here is the rubric that is used by faculty to grade the visual thesis projects. There are six major categories that faculty want to evaluate, and this rubric makes clear that they are not all weighted equally. The standards of excellence for each category are well-defined, although it should be noted that tweaking is done to the wording every year, depending on who is teaching the course.

Grading Rubric for Studio Art Written Thesis

Many studio art programs require not only a visual thesis of artwork, but also a written thesis that accompanies the visual work. Given that the students are writing about their creative process and research methodologies, this kind of written document can be challenging to grade for professors.

Here is a rubric that is used by faculty in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati to grade the written thesis papers of their studio art seniors. Please note that they chose to focus the grading process on three main areas: Content, Sources and Mechanics. These items cover everything that faculty want to see in the document, and enabled them to keep the rubric relatively simple.

This rubric also ties in directly to one of the three learning outcomes for the course, specifically:

“Students will demonstrate their ability to research and articulate their visual thesis project and its connections to art history, to contemporary art, and the cultural milieu through verbal and written critical discourse.”

This rubric enables faculty to see very clearly which students are achieving that  outcome and which aren’t.

For information about the rubric for the visual part of the thesis, click on this link.

Teaching Philosophy- Assessment Rubric

By the time you are ready to assess your statement of teaching philosophy, you should have already measured it against the questions listed in my prior post “Teaching Philosphy- How Strong is It?”. It is assumed that it has gone through numerous revisions in order to make it as strong as possible.

Now is the time to assess the statement using the following rubric, which was adapted by Vicki Daiello, Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, from an original devised by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of MInnesota.

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Teaching Philosophy- How Strong is It?

You’ve made a stab at writing your statement of teaching philosophy for your job application, but have no idea of how effective it is. Now is the time to start asking yourself questions that can help you begin to evaluate what you have written.

Vicki Daiello,Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, has adapted a series of questions originally developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota that will help you to do this, and I am reproducing them here with her permission:

Evaluating the Teaching Philosophy: Questions to Consider
Purpose & Audience
Is there a clear focus or theme(s)?
Are the language and tone appropriate for the intended audience without
relying on trite phrases, clichés, or lofty jargon?
Would it hold a reader’s attention?
Writer’s Voice
Is it “authentic” – do you have an idea of who this person is as a teacher (or
who they aspire to be)?
Does the teacher reveal self and personal/political/pedagogical
commitments?
Is enthusiasm for teaching evident?
Does it sound as though the teacher cares about the beliefs expressed and
the arguments being made?
Would you like to take a course taught by this teacher?
Beliefs/Arguments/Claims & Illustrative Support
Does it convey what the teacher believes in a way that is engaging, specific,
and easy to understand?
Does it express why these beliefs are held?
Does it tell how these beliefs came to be held?
Does it communicate the teacher’s goals for and expectations of learners?
Discipline-Specific Knowledge
Are the beliefs/arguments/claims grounded in the teacher’s discipline?
Does the organization/structure support the arguments/claims being made?
Are the beliefs/arguments/claims backed up by evidence, examples,
anecdotes, etc.?
Are there specific examples of strategies, methods, or theories used to achieve
teaching and learning goals and to help students meet or exceed
expectations?
Conventions
Are headings, transitions, and paragraph design appropriate to the content?
Are length and thematic structure appropriate to the content?
Are there any distracting grammatical, typographical, or spelling errors?

Next up: A checklist that can also help you assess the quality of your statement of teaching philosophy.

Self-Assessment = Getting them to Think about their work

There is a lot of chatter in the education community about Self-Assessment. In feeling somewhat dissatisfied that my rubrics are often more useful to me than to my students, I decided this fall to institute more consistent self-assessment into assignments. This assessment has taken two forms – the most obvious is actually giving them the rubric and asking them to complete it and turn it in with the project (the hope here is that this will provoke them to actually read the rubric!). The second is providing them with a series of questions about their work. The goal for me with self-assessment is that they think through what they are doing, rather than waiting for a longed for, but often mysterious grade from me. In the past I have asked them to write a self-evaluation with their projects, building up to an overall statement by the end of the semester. My new approach is giving them self-assessment questions tailored to the assignments.

It’s nearing the end of the semester and what has come of this new approach? Some students have been diligent in their responses, some slackers, just as I imagined. The real bonus has been getting a fix on whether they actually understand the assignments – they may be doing it right, but are they connecting the dots? Ultimately, their self-assessments have been more valuable all along the way than the end of semester course evaluations that at my school at least, are an agony of filling in bubbles and navigating obtuse data. If I ask a student “Which aperture gave you consistently shallow depth of field?” not only am I getting them to think about the result (rather than just look at it), I am also getting a sense as to whether they understand what they have done. It’s helping me to see on an assignment-to-assignment basis whether I am an effective teacher. How carefully or thoughtfully they respond, helps me to also understand whether my students are diligent learners. An obvious lesson is that those who skip the assessment are often the most problematic learners. A corollary bonus is that I get a sense of my student’s expectations. By offering them the opportunity to score their own rubric then match it to mine, room opens up for a conversation about those expectations.

Self-assessment takes time and for me is always a work in progress. I highly recommend incorporating it into assignment delivery and course expectations.