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Evaluating Your Course Success

Whether you are designing or redesigning a new course, it is important to employ strategies that will help you gauge the success of your course (re)design.  Generally speaking, this means gaining an understanding of what your students have learned and assessing what specific learning activities, assignments, resources, texts, conversations, etc. may have been significant contributors to that learning.  Of course, assessment can also shed light on the gaps in student learning and what you might consider to address those gaps.

As much as possible, assessment should be varied and occur at multiple points throughout the semester.  Remember that it does not have to be exclusively your job.  Having students evaluate their work and the work of their peers is a valuable learning experience because it makes evaluation criteria explicit, it helps students learn to apply the criteria, and ultimately, it gives them ownership of what they learn.  Equally importantly, assessment will enhance your teaching and learning practices.

Getting Useful Course Feedback

1)  Student Grades.  One of the most familiar strategies that faculty use to determine the success of course is to review how well students perform on their assignments, exams, projects, papers, and other learning activities – in other words, grades.  Our grading page has detailed information about providing effective feedback to students, using rubrics as a grading tool, examining the role of attendance in grading, and surviving the end of semester grading crunch.  While analyzing students’ grades can provide important clues about student learning, grades do not tell a complete story about what your students are learning.

2)  Student Feedback.  Student feedback is an important source of information about what is working well or what might be improved with respect to your course.  Students can be refreshingly open about what aspects of a course are fostering their learning and what course components they find less valuable.  It is critical to point out that just because students say a particular component of a course is not valuable, this does not necessarily make it true.  However, it can provide an indication of where you might need to be more clear about what you expect students to learn and benefit from an assignment, text, or class activity.  Many faculty find that the course adjustments they make in response to student feedback significantly strengthen the course, improve the learning experience for students, and inform their teaching practices.

Our Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) page has detailed information about implementing CATs into your teaching and learning practices and a host of resources about seeking useful feedback, particularly mid-semester feedback.  Moreover, CTFE staff are available to conduct a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) of your course.

3) Course Evaluations.  At the end of each semester faculty are required to ensure that students complete the university’s Course Evaluation Form.  The Course Evaluation Form consists of a number of close-ended questions about the course and instructor, as well as open-ended questions for students to complete.  While the form includes two required open-ended questions, there are also spaces for you to generate your own questions that seek feedback about any aspects of the course that you might find useful.

Course evaluations are made available to faculty several weeks before the end of the semester.  Paper versions of the course evaluation are sent to each department, please check with your departmental office to pick up your evaluations.  Online versions of the course evaluation, which are required for online courses and can be requested by faculty at the start of a semester, are distributed via email.

Course evaluations play a critical role for faculty at Mason.  They are used in faculty annual reviews and decisions about faculty renewal, promotion, and tenure.  They also inform academic units in their decision-making processes for rehiring adjunct faculty members.