Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Evaluation procedures.

I've been thinking about different ways to approach evaluation of students. Here's what I know about and have tried. If there's any suggestions y'all might have in blog-land -- either things you've tried or things you've experienced as a student -- I'd appreciate the suggestions. Generally, I'm looking for things appropriate to a humanities course (but could be more formal, as in logic or critical thinking), that will cut down on the need to check for plagiarism/cheating, and will fairly assess what students know without stressing them out unduly or killing me with grading. (I'm willing to do more marking than I am, but there needs to be a tangible benefit to either the quality of the assessment, or to the students' learning.)

(1) standard test/quiz/exam

We all know how this one works. Student sits down in front of a question paper and answers questions. I've tried open-book versions, notes-based versions (students can bring in some notes, not a full book), and closed-book. I think the median is the best in terms of reducing student stress and accurately measuring what they actually know. It's not effective for all courses, though, particularly critical reasoning and formal logic.

(2) in-class essay

Basically a variant on the above, except the question(s) is/are entirely essay-based. Generally, I like this one, except for the fact that it makes the students do a lot of writing. It also ends up being less coherent than a take-home essay.

(3) take-home essay

This brings in the problem of cheating. Any time they do anything without me looking over their shoulder, someone will cheat. And catching that is very taxing and time-consuming. However, they do have time to think about what they're trying to say, and that results in better work.

(4) essay in stages (proposal, draft, etc.)

Cuts down on the cheating problem. It's hard to cheat when I can see the work progressing. However, it's not practical for large groups (30+), as it becomes too much marking. Given that they don't actually look at what I say on the proposals or earlier drafts, that is. I'd do the marking if I thought it was generally helping. Not sure how to correct that problem.

(5) problem sets/critical comments

Problem sets are appropriate for critical thinking or logic. Not for anything else. The gist is simple: they are assigned questions which they complete at home, then bring in for grading. The completion rate is terrible, but I think I can improve it by increasing the cost of failing to do them (i.e., increasing how much each is worth).

Critical comments, like the problem sets, are small evaluations done regularly in order to assess understanding of material. It applies to courses other than critical thinking and logic. The idea is that students will do the reading and then write a very short response or question about the reading, which is brought to class. Again, response rate is terrible, but this could probably be improved by increasing the cost of not completing it.

One thing I haven't done that I would, if the class were small enough (so, probably 20 or less) is an in-person interview. The idea would be to give them something to read -- beforehand, in the case of something like intro or intro to ethics or some such; in the interview, in the case of critical thinking or logic -- and bring the students in individually to discuss it. In principle, I like it, as I think it would not be unduly stressful for the students, and it could save me the need to wade through limp and awkward prose. However, I can see this being a problem for students who don't like to talk, and I can see this taking a significant amount of time on my part. (Which I would be okay with if I were really convinced this was a potentially good idea.)

Thoughts, anyone?


mnfu said...

I liked #2 when I was an undergrad student, but that was a lot of hand-writing and my hand would be in pain afterwards. Also, if some of your students have messy handwriting, well, ugh.

ADHR said...

That's the response I've gotten probably most frequently: it was physically painful to write that much. I'm trying to get around it, possibly by reducing the length of the essays (say, 600 words -- about 5 pages or so). But, then the topics have to become less complicated....

My handwriting's terrible. I have yet to encounter a student whose handwriting was worse. ;)