|Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash|
Do you have a clear idea of how you learn and what teaching methods help you most? I certainly don't and I'm close to retirement. However we continually ask students to evaluate their courses and draw conclusions from their feedback. Student course evaluations form the basis for future course design and administration but I wonder if we are asking the right questions.
This is a topic discussed in a post by Zach Groshell, Do Students Have a Good Idea of What Helps Them Learn? We are asking them to evaluate a complex process that they have limited insight into and often the benefits of good teaching become clear months or even years later. He refers to a recent study, On students’ (mis)judgments of learning and teaching effectiveness. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 9(2), 137–151), that investigates the hidden biases and subjective impressions behind student course evaluations. They found for example a mismatch between what the students thought they had learned and their test results. They preferred traditional content-rich lectures to more active sessions despite studies showing that active participation leads to deeper learning. They were also highly influenced by subjective perceptions of the teacher's status, enthusiasm, gender, ethnic background and accent (as we all are). I hasten to add that we are all subject to these biases.
As we have seen, empirical research has provided a wealth of results showing that students are poor evaluators of their own learning, and that their subjective impressions of teaching effectiveness are vulnerable to many biases that are unrelated to teaching and learning… Does this make it risky for instructors to use effective learning techniques? Particularly early in their careers and in teaching-focused positions, instructors may find themselves faced with the difficult decision of whether to incorporate teaching practices that gain them recognition as effective instructors, even if such practices do not positively impact students’ learning.
Given reasonable options, students in my class did not prefer the in-person mode of course delivery. In fact, the number of students who physically attended class dropped precipitously to an average of around 20% by mid-semester (see figure 1). At the same time, about one-third of students opted to participate synchronously during class time (see figure 2), with a growing number, reaching about 30%, participating asynchronously. The number of students who didn't participate any given day was relatively consistent throughout the semester at about 15%.The test results showed that the on-site students performed no better than the others, in fact the first-year students who studied asynchronously (recorded lectures, forum discussion etc) had better results than those who attended classes in person. The study is of course limited and offers no exploration of the students' preferences but it does show that students appreciate the choice of participation modes more than we might assume.
My conclusion here is that we need greater dialogue with students about teaching and learning, explaining in advance why we are using a particular approach and getting them to buy into the method through together discussing rules of engagement and building a framework for feedback and reflection. Expectation management is so important and so pre-course information is so much more than just presenting a syllabus. It's setting an agenda and helping students understand how to succeed.