Thursday, December 20, 2007

What kinds of evidence counts?

How does anyone know, really know, that a particular course is good or bad? Better or worse than a similar course? That a particular teacher is good or bad? That a particular course taught by a particular teacher at a particular time for a particular student is good or bad? For a particular group of students?

What kinds of evidence would be useful to resolve one of these apparent conflicts?
What kinds of evidence would be compelling?

58 comments:

David Smith said...

There's another part to this question - "toward what ends?" The concept of a good or bad course by itself is meaningless without a sense of the goals or values you wish for the course. I prefer to ask whether or not a course is effective at a particular goal.

If my goal is to boost content knowledge and my student score higher on a content inventory after the course than they did at the beginning, it is effective. If my goal is to create a desire for ongoing learning in the subject and most students, even if they learned a lot, indicate that they would not want to take an additional course in this subject, then I am not effective in meeting my goals.

In the effectiveness framework, there is still the question of what kind of evidence indicates that your goals have been met, but that conversation focuses on particular student performances rather than global judgements. It also drives an important conversation about exactly why are we teaching this course, anyway?

Best,

Dave Smith, Da Vinci Science Center, Allentown, PA

Katherine said...

David makes very good points and I agree whole-heartedly.

One strategy we implemented four years ago when faced with a high degree of student dis-satisfaction was to use the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation to measure not only satisfaction (Level 1) and learning (Level 2) but also their ability to apply their knowledge and skill in a different context (Level 3) and our achievement of our Program's outcomes (Level 4). We collect qualitative and quantitative data from every source we can in both formative and summative approaches. The data are rich in feedback and guidance for us. We are better able to determine when to act and when not to act as well as what kind of action to take.

We use our accreditation self-study to help guide the process in terms of what information to collect. We have seen a dramatic improvement in several areas as a result. It's hard work but well worth the effort and has resolved for us the question at the center of this discussion. What counts is what helps us determine if we are fulfilling our mission and goals.

Katherine

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