Assessment and evaluation, though different, go hand in hand. Whereas assessment focuses on student learning, evaluation concentrates on teaching.
Put simply, when acted upon, assessment and evaluation help improve teaching and learning. Like much of teaching and learning, there is skill involved in developing effective evaluations and assessments, starting with careful analysis and intentional design.
Teachers use assessments to measure students’ learning and provide feedback on progress. Students can then use that feedback to learn more and improve where needed.
Categorizing the range of assessment options into formative or summative can help your design efforts as you work to give students multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate learning.
Formative assessments are those that are low-stakes and occur frequently throughout a module or lesson. Whether graded or ungraded, they help monitor student progress and provide you with information about where more scaffolding is needed to better meet student needs throughout your course. Some formative assessment examples include polls, think-pair-share activities, jigsaw activities, brief quizzes, and journals. As you use formative assessments—giving timely and focused feedback, additional instruction, and supportive interventions—you provide students with opportunities to revise and improve their work.
Formative assessments can also double as practice exercises for students and reinforce learning. Students can gain metacognitive skills from them, too, learning to seek out supplementary materials, self-regulate, self-quiz, and reread.
Summative assessments occur at the end of a unit or course. While formative assessments are more focused on informing future teaching, summative assessments emphasize the outcomes—the learning side of the equation. Thus, they are used to measure how much a student has learned over time. They tend to be higher stakes and, as a result, cause students more stress and sometimes anxiety. While summative assessments come at the end, providing feedback remains important, as students can use it for future learning in the next unit, next class, or in their careers. Some examples of summative assessments include essays, projects, and comprehensive exams.
Although students sometimes take summative assessments more seriously than formative ones, it’s important to your teaching and their learning that you not rely on them exclusively but also incorporate a variety of formative assessments. When implemented seamlessly into class activities as practice or homework with clear connections to learning objectives, they are invaluable and can even be fun!
Evaluation instruments or observations are meant to help faculty improve their teaching, whether examining the content, delivery, curriculum, or course design. People in various roles are responsible for evaluating teaching, but we want to focus here on faculty evaluating themselves through the help of their students.
Although we tend to think of evaluation occurring at the end of things, when it comes to teaching and course design, the sooner we start evaluating, the better. Evaluating early and often allows for course correction and adaptation without having to wait until you have a whole new set of students or may have forgotten the hiccups you experienced along the way. Thus, as with many things, to achieve evaluation success, have a plan and start immediately.
One way to assess your courses is to solicit feedback from your students. Even before you hold your first class, you can plan when you will evaluate your course and what your evaluations will look like. They might consist of class polls, paper-pencil surveys, or online surveys using the LMS or another technology tool. It’s also a good idea to plot them out within your course syllabus and schedule so you don’t forget about them as the semester gets busy.
Evaluation Design and Examples
Your evaluations don’t need to be long. With a few simple questions, you can gain a lot of insight. Using only a few questions and keeping the questions short makes students more likely to respond. For a quick snapshot, consider Likert scale questions, or ask a few open-ended questions to let students more fully express their thoughts.
Beginning-of-Semester Sample Survey Questions
For example, a Week 1 survey might consist of the following:
- After looking over the syllabus and introductory materials, what do you expect to gain from this course?
- What expectations do you have of yourself regarding this class?
- What are some things I, your instructor, can do to help you be successful this semester?
You might add other early-semester questions as well, such as those that account for student technology, wellness, or emergency planning needs. Though not exhaustive, we have compiled a list of various questions to get you started. Feel free to download and browse through our Start-of-Term Student Questionnaire [MS Word], pull questions that fit your needs, add new ones, and fully make it your own.
We recommend making course evaluations anonymous—and informing students of that—so they feel comfortable being candid in their responses. Finally, by not grading the evaluation, you can elicit the kind of constructive feedback that will help you improve.
Early-in-the-Semester Sample Survey Questions
Doing a brief student survey around week 3 or 4 in a 16-week course is invaluable. It can provide insights early on and show students you care and are interested in their thoughts.
- Is the course what you expected? Better, worse, suggestions?
- What has been your favorite part of the course?
- What has been your least favorite part of the course?
- What, if anything, have you learned that will be beneficial in your education, career, and life?
- What are you doing well? What can you do better?
- What am I, the instructor, doing well? What can I do better?
End-of-Semester Sample Survey Questions
Implementing a final evaluation near the end of the semester helps to close the loop and provide you with a big-picture student perspective of your teaching and the course. Here are some example questions. Remember to keep it short and allow open-ended responses to glean the greatest insights.
- What did you think? Was it what you were expecting? Was it what you were hoping for?
- What did you like BEST about this class?
- More importantly, what did you like LEAST about the course?
- What did you think about the structure of the course, assignments, workload, videos, projects, etc.?
- How did you feel about my accessibility to you? Was I easy to contact, helpful, etc.?
- What else would you like to share? Please be candid with your responses.
As you review your evaluations, know that there may be some outliers in the feedback. Take it with a grain of salt. The key is to look for and trace patterns. When a number of students comment on the same things, those are areas to dig into and reflect on ways to improve for next time.
If you need further assistance, ITS-RITG is available to answer your questions or meet you for a consultation. Contact us through the Online Service Desk.