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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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.

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.

Pedagogy Now! Teaching Teachers to Teach

Attached is a PDF of the 2012 SPE presentation by Janie, Suz and Angela. This is intended to be helpful in jumpstarting ideas surrounding the topics. It is, of course, missing our fabulous presenter skills! Please note that movies are inactive and not all the links translated as live in this PDF, however there should be enough info to point you in the right direction for further research.
PedagogyNow_Web

Critiquing in small groups

A critique strategy I like to use once students have the basic idea of the process down, is to form them into small groups to evaluate each others’ work. I’ll either form them, or allow them to self-form into groups of three, and give them time to round-robin their work. For guidance, I might write questions they should address on the board. I’ll also instruct that each of them will be responsible for presenting one of their peer’s work to the greater class.

This can be a nice technique for helping them to converse more deeply about an individual project, to help them develop their presentation skills and to allow the quiet student to feel more comfortable expressing themselves in a smaller group.

Managing Groups

You’ve set your groups up as well as you could, but you are still worried about whether or not they will function well?

Having your students read Barbara Oakley’s article “Coping With Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams” will give them (and you) some fantastic tips about how to manage those students who see group work as an opportunity to slack off.