Kristina Edstrom

  • Conceptions of course evaluation among teachers and student representatives of an engineering programme

    Kristina Edström, The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden

    Session 5d, Wednesday 09.30

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed:

    • Course and programme design
    • Implementing and managing change and innovation
    • Institutional strategies
    • Faculty development methods and/or strategies

    In evaluation literature utilisation is an important theme, with various views on how or whether utilisation can be improved. Patton describes how evaluation can be planned and designed for utilisation, through collaboration with the intended users focusing on their intended use (Patton 1996). But drawing on modern organisational theory, Dahler-Larsen portrays evaluation as a ritual whose role is mainly to create an appearance of rationality and accountability (Dahler-Larsen 2005).

    In 2005, the student union at KTH invited university management to a meeting about the course evaluation system. They wrote “The feeling among the students is that the results of course level quality processes are small in relation to the effort spent by teachers, students and administrators”.

    So can we improve the usefulness of course evaluations at KTH? Can course evaluation become a tool for improving courses? This study takes a first step by investigating the present conceptions of course evaluations. Ten teachers and two student representatives from one engineering program were interviewed to find out:

    • The perceived purpose of course evaluations (quality assurance/enhancement)
    • The perceived object of course evaluations (teaching/teacher/learning process).
    • Their views on teaching and learning (how phenomena are interpreted, what course development options seem available and desirable).
    • How their course evaluations are utilised in practice.

    Interviews show that evaluation practices are often inherited and virtually unreflected. The espoused purpose is development. The object of evaluation is predominantly teaching and the teacher. Development is seen to imply improving the lectures, but teachers are not sure how to make improvements come about. Most questionnaires ask students to grade the teachers as lecturers, without guidance and little reflection on what the grades actually mean. When students’ own work is discussed, it is obvious that surface approach, little time-on-task and procrastination are widespread problems. These problems are only attributed to the students. Respondents don’t see how students’ work could be influenced by course design, and evaluation is not considered as a tool to investigate these phenomena. Evaluation is seen by many as an empty routine.

    Finally, an inquiry model for course evaluation with clear connections to course development is sketched. The relation between evaluation practices and conceptions of teaching and learning is discussed. Could an intervention with new evaluation practices help promote a learning perspective? Or would it just fall flat because of the limited view on teaching and learning?