Following our post about mid-semester evals, I thought it was time to address the other part of the equation: the students themselves. These are a few links I’ve recently found regarding helping your students reflect on and evaluate their own learning and progress in your course.
As authors Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick point out, students already do make judgments about their work and performance. They write something in a paper and ask themselves if they’ve written enough, if what they’ve written makes sense, if they’ve said what they think the professor wants them to say, if they put the references in the right format, or if their solution is correct. And they answer those questions which means they are giving themselves feedback. So, why, ask these authors, aren’t we intervening during this process and doing what we can to improve their self-assessment skills?
The rest of the blog post references the article and offers some strategies for intervention, for guided practice, and for building student self-assessment into the grading process.
A nice parallel to those insights is this post – from the same blog and author – about providing questioning, coaching feedback that builds meta-cognitive skills. And such skills are sorely needed:
As soon as I thought students had gotten a sense as to the kind of content in my course, I asked them to write a brief explanation on how they intended to study and learn this material. The paragraphs they produced were almost always disappointing . . . . In general, I think undergraduates have very little awareness of themselves as learners. If I followed-up by asking for a second paragraph about how they were studying in a course very different than this one—say a math or chemistry course—the paragraphs weren’t all that different.
Getting students to explain why they are making specific content-related choices is the first step to helping them begin to actively navigate the learning process rather than being passive recipients of course material. For a more in-depth look at how to help students step back and critically evaluate their own thinking, the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education at The Evergreen State College has a nice article by psychology professor Thad Curtz on Teaching Self-Assessment.
How can one get started with an actual self-evaluation assignment? Many of the sample assignments below are graded items or integral parts of the course / program structure. If you’re looking more for something where students might quickly jot their thoughts down, a slimmed-down version of some of the questions below might do the trick.
Here is a summary of a sample student self-assessment assignment. This two-part assignment begins and then ends the course, so it isn’t really suitable for a mid-semester self-assessment; I present this here because it’s topical – and, hey, maybe whatever you decide to do to build student self-awareness might be helped by this sort of approach. In this assignment, students are first asked to indicate their goals for the course and then, at the end of the term, to indicate how well they did in meeting these goals. And what happens when students indicate their learning goal is to get an A in the course? The instructor using the assignment “reports that many students have personal goals related to grades. He understands that and accepts it. His goal is to help students see that there is more to the course than just a grade—that the content is meaningful and useful independent of the grade.”
The Center for Teaching Excellence at George Mason University also has a sample mid-semester student self-assessment, complete with some evaluation criteria. The example reference here does rely on students having set some prior goals for the course, but these need not have been done on the first day.
The Washington Center also has some sample self-evaluation prompts. Many of these are more summative in nature, but a few of them are easily adaptable to the mid-semester. These include: “[What are] my strongest and weakest points as a student? What did I do to improve the weak points? What will I do next?”, “What did you expect to learn? What did you actually learn? More or less, and why?”, and “What advice would some friends in the [course] give you if they spoke with 100 percent honesty and caring?”.
Of course, in addition to figuring out what to ask, you’ll also need to figure out the mechanics of asking your questions. Only you can decide if this will be a graded / extra-credit / ungraded / required / optional assignment. As for how to ask the questions, if you really want your students to take this task seriously, maintaining anonymity seems pretty difficult. If there’s a professor out there who has successfully managed this, I’d love to hear from you!
In less anonymous electronic approaches, the journal tool in LearningStudio seems like an excellent fit for something like this; one could also use a LearningStudio dropbox basket for an evaluation assignment. If that doesn’t meet your needs, I think it it would be possible to use our old friend the Google Form to set up a text question asking the student’s name and then follow this with few short paragraph text questions about his/her behavior in the course. Do you use – or have you heard of – another approach for the digital submission of student self-evaluations? If so, what?