Student Evaluation: The day one method

tumblr_mluyz16Nk01qzi5bfo1_1280This post is for teachers, especially new PBL teachers. Its about getting student evaluations of your practice. If you’re new to PBL or new to teaching there’s a natural concern about how well you are teaching for understanding not just to be interesting, fun or charismatic.

Inspired by a lengthy explanation of how to go about “student evaluations” (related to higher education) I’ve found over several years, there is often an assumption that this is an end-of-course diagnostic. I won’t go back over the issues students have with evaluation of courses — and teaching, there is a ton of literature about that — yet we’re still seeing lots of discussion about the most effective ‘survey’ which is related to what kind of survey tool to use. Again, not interested in that debate either.

What Project Based Learning taught me, though observation, experience and theory is that all PBL course designs begin with the end in mind. So how can you create an effective student evaluation at the beginning, if in actual fact you’re not too sure how each session will go during the project? In higher education, courses are often required to submit exams in say week 5 of a 16 week course, meaning that teachers are often locked into things they can’t easily change. In schools, the hallowed “scope and sequence” is a compliance document and often only certain people can change it, and many teachers see it as bondage. Do not move off the path!

Of course PBL is all about reducing the distance you can see down the path. You know where the end is, you have plan of how to get there and the kind of resources to take on the trip … but can you really design an effective ‘student evaluation’ at the outset?

Yes. It’s remarkably simple if you’re using technology. Just create a blank Google Document and share the link with your students. That document is something you get to comment on, but they get to author. Personally, I like to have students create ‘anon’ gmail accounts from day one too. but I understand some people will have some regulation which might prevent this method. For you, just share a OneNote or a bank document via Dropbox, some internal drive and so on. There is a way you can do this I assure you. Also, share this document with your colleagues … because they too can give you advice and tips just at the time you might be struggling or unsure.

It’s a critical document because it creates trust between you and them — and shows that throughout the coursework/project you are actively thinking about teaching, and what it means to be an effective teacher. As you change, your students change and society changes around you — this approach lets you revisit your values, technologies and what is important to you and your students THIS time not everytime.

In short, the most important document you can share with a student is a blank one.

Now who’s too busy to do that?