Theological school deans are not just theological leaders for their institution, they must be EDUCATIONAL leaders. That is, they must implement sound educational practices related to curriculum, instruction, supervision, assessment, and administration. There is a variety of ways to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum, and there are several levels of assessment (program-level, course-level, student testing, student projects, etc.). While faculty members can focus on course-level and individual student learning assessment, academic deans need to focus on program-level assessment in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the school's curricular course of study. Here are ten basic curriculum assessment tools every academic dean needs, nine are covered in previous posts:
Outcomes alignment worksheet
Syllabus assessment worksheet
Grade Distribution report
Program retention and completion rate worksheets
Entering student profile
Graduating class profile
Student course evaluations
In this final entry of the series we review:
10. Student course evaluations that are worth the trouble
Student course evaluations, a form of indirect assessment, can be a meaningful component of a school's formative assessment of its curriculum. Unfortunately, most course evaluation tools do not provide sufficiently meaningful data to be helpful. One evidence may be how difficult it is for most schools to collect meaningful data from the evaluations. Another is how students tend to see them as a chore, resulting in cursory responses and a low rate of return. Further, in most cases, the data collected rarely is analyzed at depth or used to prompt pedagogical actions for improvement in teaching and learning.
Two approaches can help make course evaluations worth the trouble for students and for deans. First, a better-designed course evaluation tool, and second, a procedure that helps ensure a higher response rate.
1. A well-designed student course evaluation tool
An effective student course evaluation tool will provide data and feedback that is meaningful. That is, the information from student feedback should address issues of pedagogy that are relevant, measurable, and actionable. For example, the mythical Central Generic Theological Seminary gathers the following clusters of information on its student course evaluations:
(1) Student profile information
(2) Feedback on program-level goals
(3) Feedback on instruction and pedagogy
(4) Feedback on instructor effectiveness
(5) Feedback on the relevance of the course to the practice of ministry
(6) Feedback on program and learning integration.
In order to make these clusters meaningful, the instrument focuses on instructional effectiveness and curricular program goals, not on what students "like" or "enjoyed." Additionally, the clusters of items are co-factored to yield meaningful interpretation. See the attached "Anatomy of a Student Course Evaluation Tool" which shows how the instrument is structured by clusters and for co-factor analysis.
Once the student evaluations are collected (CGTS uses its learning management system (LMS) for its course evaluations) the dean prepares an aggregate report for the Faculty. The aggregate report includes a comparison of selected items over the course of several semesters. The comparison focuses on areas targeted for improvement based on the student evaluations. Here are some examples:
In Example 1 the dean compares student responses to degree program goal 1.A across two semesters. Additionally, the report compares two related items by gender.
In Example 2 the dean highlights three instructional items related to coursework (knowledge, principles, skills) and compares the responses over three semesters. This report item shows improvement in the most recent semester indicating that the interventions faculty members applied in their courses to address these issues are having a positive effect.
In Example 3 the dean compares a cluster of items related to instruction over three semesters. This feedback becomes important for the Faculty of CGTS in helping it realize the need to be more overt in applying pedagogical strategies that help students be more aware of the course learning objectives and to create learning experiences that yield a higher response from students about achieving the course outcomes. As a result of this feedback, the dean led the Faculty in applying teaching and learning practices to increase the effectiveness of these items.
You can download a copy of the student course assessment questionnaire here
2. A rigorous procedure for assessment
The second strategy employed by CGTS is the implementation of policies and procedures that help ensure a high rate of return on student course evaluations. The school's policy makes completion of the student course evaluation part of the course completion requirements. Students who do not complete the course evaluation do not receive a grade for the course. Additionally, the school has put in place the procedures to help ensure this indirect assessment data set is part of the formative assessment plan.
A Student Course Evaluation Sample Here is a sample of student course evaluation questions with questions that cover the various clusters for co-factor analysis. Download Student Course Evaluation sample
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean, Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Galindo serves on the Advisory Committee of the Wabash Center and serves as part of its consultant's group.