Effective Classroom Evaluations are Purpose Driven

By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Have you considered the effectiveness of your classroom evaluations? Most evaluations involve a formalized process of testing or examination and are built into the process of traditional learning. An adjunct will deliver a classroom lecture; utilize written assignments and schedule tests and/or examinations throughout the course.  Evaluations are designed to measure and assess students’ learning and the progress that they have made towards meeting the required course objectives. The evaluation scores further substantiate students’ overall grade for the class. There is an important distinction to be made between an evaluation and a written assignment. A written assignment will demonstrate your students’ ability to take an assigned concept, set of instructions, and required information and then produce a tangible work product. In contrast, an evaluation provides a different form of measurement and analysis because it assesses the students’ level of knowledge acquired at the time of the evaluation. Evaluations can contribute to the process of learning when thought is given to the purpose and design of the test or exam administered.

The Adjunct’s Perspective
Regardless of which form of evaluation you decide to utilize, either one provides you with an opportunity to offer specific feedback to the student and establish your expectations of what students should have learned at the time the evaluation is given. The types of questions utilized, including multiple-choice or true/false questions, give a clear indication of what is important to you at this point in the course. If you include short answer or essay questions you also have an opportunity to expand your feedback and address the content and mechanics of each student’s response.

A challenge to keep in mind when developing any form of evaluation is to avoid creating an assessment that simply ascertains what the students have memorized. Just because students are reading the materials and listening to lectures, along with reviewing and/or studying for the test, this does not equate to learning or long-term retention of relevant knowledge. This is why you may want to consider including short answer and essay questions so that you can determine your students’ progress in working with the course concepts.

The Students’ Perspective
From the students’ perspective you are providing them with direct feedback and also receiving indirect feedback from them as well. Students will demonstrate the knowledge they have gained through their responses. From this data you can then measure the effectiveness of your facilitation strategies, which allows you to tailor or adapt your approach as necessary if you are noticing trends that require further attention or instruction. In addition, while you are reviewing students’ responses you can make specific recommendations and offer resources that meet their developmental needs. The overall effectiveness of your classroom evaluations often depends upon the process used to create the test or exam, and more importantly the purpose you have decided upon while creating the questions.

Purpose Driven Design
You are likely to find that your evaluations become the most meaningful when they are designed with the students’ skill set in mind, along with their program level, cognitive ability or potential, and their existing academic experience. As an example, many textbook publishers provide test banks that allow instructors to quickly put together an evaluation. If you take a sample of the questions that are available you can determine if they are appropriate for the current academic skill sets and abilities that your students have, as the test banks are generally developed for students with advanced skills. To further illustrate this example, if you are teaching undergraduate students they are going to have a very different set of skills and cognitive abilities than students who are at the graduate level. This does not suggest that at any point you should dumb down the test; however, it does remind adjuncts that evaluations will only be effective when appropriately matched to students’ background and abilities.

Another important point for development of a purpose driven evaluation is that the tests and examinations may be viewed as being procedural in nature, which implies it is a one-way process of gauging students’ progress. These evaluations can also be diagnostic as they provide information for adjuncts that allow them to fine tune the delivery of their lectures and course information, while adding emphasis, resources, and clarification as needed. In addition, a purpose driven evaluation becomes a form of two-way communication if students are given an opportunity to express what is important to them. You can tell what has caught students’ attention by the key points that they focus on with their responses and that allows you to better understand what is being emphasized through your lectures. You can also add an open-ended question that asks them directly what key concepts they have learned in the class, which provides a valuable source of feedback for development of your instructional strategies.

Few Surprises
Once your students have taken the test or exam you should find very few surprises with the results. The reason for this is that you are observing them in class, interacting with them through class discussions, and reviewing their written assignments. This provides you with clues as to how your students are processing information and working with it. The evaluation is an indicator of what long-term information or knowledge has been retained up to that point in the class. Another helpful way of looking at classroom evaluations is to consider employee evaluations that are given within an organizational environment. For that scenario, the employee and their manager should not be surprised by the outcome if ongoing developmental efforts are being addressed. This is also true for an instructor who is working with students in an academic environment. It is important to address performance issues along the way so that the classroom evaluation becomes a summary of knowledge gained rather than a first notice for areas of needed development.

As you begin to develop a purpose for your evaluations it may be helpful to change your thought process while designing questions for the test or examination. Instead of asking yourself why students don’t do better or try harder, consider instead if your students are prepared, properly equipped with needed skill sets, and if the form of evaluation matches their present abilities. Regardless of the format of the questions used, classroom evaluations provide you with an opportunity to summarize important concepts, emphasize required knowledge needed, and reinforce your expectations about the process of learning. This instructional strategy can add value for your work as an adjunct and add meaning for the students’ learning experience when it is focused on their developmental needs.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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