Evaluation by Students

Evaluating Student Learning

Evaluating Student Learning
One way to measure the quality of a course is to evaluate what students have learned from it. This can be done either by looking at how they have performed in their assessments or by using measures that correlate with good student learning outcomes

Assessment
This is the primary method of evaluating whether or not students have learned anything from a course. Assessment can be a very useful evaluation measure to determine the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

When evaluating a course through assessment it is important to consider the following:
  • Are the assessments appropriate methods of measuring the kinds of knowledge, skills and attitudes identified as being important for the students?
  • Do the students reach the agreed criteria in an appropriate manner?
Assessment in general is discussed in more detail in the University' of Otago's document Assessment Principles and Guidelines. (See: Academic Policies on the policies database at http://www.otago.ac.nz/administration/index.html.)

Student Evaluation Questionnaire
The Student Evaluation Questionnaire given to students also contains some questions that are indicators of positive learning outcomes for students. For example, the questionnaire has been designed to focus on areas that are correlated with deeper approaches to learning in students and therefore with more positive learning outcomes:
  • Good teaching (e.g. use of helpful feedback)
  • Clear goals (e.g. having a clear idea about what is required and why)
  • Appropriate workload (e.g. too much content can leave the students in a position where they can't possibly take it all in)
  • Appropriate assessment (e.g. tests that link to the stated goals of the course)
  • Emphasis on independence (e.g. students who have choice about what and how they learn are more likely to take a deeper approach to their learning). (c.f. Ramsden (1992: 104)
If students rate courses highly in relation to questions on these issues it may suggest that their learning is being well supported. However, it is important to realise that students do not always appreciate what does them good. Thus, it is important to consider these data in relation to information from other sources (e.g. written comments, teachers' evaluations, etc.). See section 3.1 for further comments on the student evaluation questionnaire.

Focus groups
Focus groups are conducted to explore specific aspects of a course or when more information is required about students' experiences. For example, a Course Convenor may be interested to know what parts of a module promotes effective learning. A focus group gives the students the opportunity to discuss these. Focus groups are conducted at the request of convenors or following consultation with the Medical Education Adviser of the School.

Procedure for focus groups

  • The Medical Education Adviser meets with the convenor to discuss the issues to be addressed in the focus group and they decide on the kinds of questions that will be asked.
  • A group of students (usually between 6 and 10) are invited by the Medical Education Adviser to attend the focus group. The letter of invitation specifies the reason for holding the focus group, the time and place that the group will meet and assurances that reported comments will be anonymised.
  • Focus groups generally last between 30-60 minutes depending on the issues under discussion.
The Medical Education Adviser records the discussion points from the focus group and produces a draft report which is circulated to the students on the understanding that if they wish to make any amendments or additions they must do so by a certain date. After this date, the Medical Education Adviser forwards the report to the convenor and they meet to discuss the outcomes of the focus group and to plan any actions arising from these.

Evaluating Students Experiences of Courses

Students’ presence during teaching sessions puts them in a unique position to evaluate the course. While there are some aspects of courses that students are unable to judge reliably (for example, the level of knowledge held by the teacher), their judgement in other areas can be both reliable and valid.

A variety of methods are used to evaluate students’ experiences: