Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Change the focus

When I was a student just about everything I wrote was for a very exclusive audience; generally one person, a teacher or examiner. No-one else would ever read it. I wrote purely to be assessed and it wasn't a very stimulating, fulfilling or realistic process. That's why today's students are writing assignments that are published publicly on the net or made available on the university's open access archive. When you know your work will be available to all you automatically raise your game, suddenly the assignment is real and not a test. Shift the focus and change the view.

A similar change of focus can inject much needed energy to the tired ritual of course evaluations. A short article by Brian CroxallImprove your Course Evaluations by having your Class Write Letters to Future Students (Chronicle of Higher Education), describes how he choose a new angle for the end-of-course evaluation. Instead of handing out the standard evaluation form he asked the students to write a letter to next year's students giving them advice and tips about the course and the teaching. By changing the focus from writing to a faceless administrator to a group of fellow students the task suddenly became meaningful and the feedback was much more enlightening. The quantity and quality of the feedback was improved.

"... I found that the students wrote, on average, far more on these evaluations than they have on past ones that I have provided. And in writing something directed at fellow students rather than me or some faceless, unknowable bureaucracy, I’d say that the students were much more candid. This means that they are more direct in talking about my strengths and weaknesses. And while it’s nice to hear the former, it’s the latter that will actually help me do a better job the next time around."

A slight change of focus can often make a big difference.

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