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Understanding evaluation: SET SEM and the student learning experience

William Bowden (School of Humanities), Liudmyla Sharipova (School of History).

Student evaluation procedures play a key role across the HE sector in gauging student reaction to teaching methods, courses and quality of learning. They reinforce the idea that the development of teaching programmes is a dynamic process involving both staff and students. Literature on the subject underlines the importance of well-constructed questionnaires and debates the relative advantages of open comments and closed answers. This project aimed to provide a fresh look at student expectations of evaluation procedures and suggest further ways of gaining insights into the student learning experience.

Student attitudes towards SET/SEM evaluation were tested through a questionnaire that was distributed to a total of 193 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates within the School of History and the Department of Archaeology. The distribution of paper copies in class unsurprisingly produced a much higher response rate (77.5%) than those distributed electronically (7%). In contrast with the standard SET/ SEM form, the open questions were placed at the start of the questionnaire to test whether a change in format would encourage a greater level of response to open questions than the average 30-40% registered for traditional questionnaires. In both sets of questions, students were asked to comment on the efficacy of evaluation, the perceived impact of their responses, and the extent to which evaluation reflected their learning experience.

The response rate to the open questions was extremely high, with 80.5% of returned questionnaires giving answers to all of them, which may be a result of the privileging of these questions in the design of the form. Although it is possible that the novelty of the process and form design was a contributing factor in the response rate, a number of students commented that “tick boxes” did not encourage reflection and did not allow concerns to be adequately expressed.

The respondents clearly felt that module evaluation was important with 81.5% agreeing or strongly agreeing that feedback from the present cohort would benefit future students. However, their impression of the impact of evaluation on their own learning experience was less assured. A degree of scepticism was also reflected in student responses to the open questions, with many answers expressing doubts that any significant changes would be made as a result of their comments.

The use of questionnaires to explore the efficacy of the same in determining the quality of student learning experience is not ideal. Future work could apply alternative or additional methodologies (such as asking students to write a 100 word mini essay on ways to increase the efficacy of evaluation). While this would lessen the quantitative element of the survey, it would potentially enhance the degree of student reflection already apparent in the answers to the open-ended questions. Future work in this area should also explore ways of introducing greater accountability and transparency in demonstrating the impact of evaluation, at the same time trying to maintain a reasonable amount of staff confidentiality.

Resource 257 of 284
Paper presented at the University's Thirteenth Learning & Teaching conference (September, 2008).
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