Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Katarina Chmolova. Katarina is an Instructional Designer at OpenLearning. She has a Masters and PaedDr Degree in Education, with a research focus on developing school, family, and community partnerships. She believes learning is a means to achieving people’s life dreams, potential, and ambition.
Imagine you are a software engineer working on developing a new app. You are really excited — your app has been released, and people are downloading and using it. The next step is to verify and evaluate the app in order to know how consumers rate it and, based on this data, to know how you can make it even better!
Running an online course is a similar process. Once you design and create the course, one of your goals is to find out if the course objectives meet the course outcomes. In other words, if your students learned what you expected them to learn.
From learning outcomes to learning evaluation
This is one of the very first steps you should take when you start to design your course. Course objectives are what you want your students to learn, whilst course outcomes are the actual demonstration of their new knowledge and skills. If objectives and outcomes meet, you’ve done an awesome job! Course objectives and course outcomes are the basis for evaluation and verification at the end of your course.
Quick example: a learning objective is formulated as what your students will learn, will understand, will think about, and so on. For example: “Students will understand fundamental principles of …” On the other hand, a learning outcome is formulated as an end result that can be measured, evaluated, or observed, such as that students will demonstrate knowledge, will be able to explain and use knowledge, will be able to apply knowledge, will give examples, and so on. “Students will be able to apply the fundamental principles to problem solving.” Did you spot the difference?
Activity as a tool for evaluation
Activities are a crucial part of teaching and learning. They’re when students become actively involved in their learning. They create a great opportunity to link the course content with real life and personal experiences in order to demonstrate skills of analysis, evaluation, and creativity. At the same time, students demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and thinking, which you can evaluate and verify.
The activity, in essence, can be seen from two perspectives:
- as a crucial aspect of learning: developing students’ higher-level thinking and deep learning based on experience; and
- as feedback and information for the teacher: how the student understood the content and how they’ve been able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the content. The type of information the teacher gathers in this time depends on the instructions of the activity.
Activity instructions can be presented in two ways, as follows.
- Quantitative (measurable) Methods of Evaluation: “Tell me WHAT you learned.” Examples: questionnaires, revision questions, quizzes, and so on.
- Qualitative Methods of Evaluation: “Show me HOW you can apply, synthesize, evaluate, and design what you’ve learned.” Examples: essays, focus groups, scenarios, projects, case studies, artefacts, personal experiences, introspection, visual texts, portfolios, direct observation, role play or simulation, and so on.
Quick example: learning to drive. Let's take the case of a course that contains the theory of driving — traffic signs, traffic rules, providing first aid, and so on. As a method of evaluation, you implement an exam consisting of revision questions. If your student scores 100%, this indicates that the content of the course was clear, understandable, and efficient. It indicates the knowledge your student has acquired.
So what is the indicator of skills in the above example? Direct observation of real driving. Revision questions, as a method, provide a message that the student knows the theory. Direct observation goes further, because this method indicates that the student knows the theory and is able to use it as a real skill.
Holistic Approach to Student’s Learning
It is widely believed that quantitative evaluation forms are more reliable and valid than qualitative ones. It is true that they are easier to replicate and administer. However, they do not provide an holistic overview of a student’s learning and thinking.
As you could see in the example above, quantitative methods focus on knowledge. If you decide to go further and implement qualitative methods, you can see how your students can use and apply their knowledge. You not only gain a deeper insight, but you also help students develop higher-level thinking skills!
Quick example: let’s say that you’ve designed a course about fashion design in wedding dresses. How can you evaluate students’ learning? You can give them a quiz on sewing, a quiz on cutting, a quiz on embroidering, and then a final quiz on everything. Or you can let them create their own dress. What could creating a dress indicate? It might indicate whether a student has mastered enough skills to become an expert and skilled designer. The type of wedding dress a student creates gives you an instant insight into exactly how much information your students have learned, analyzed, evaluated, and put into practice. For instance, cutting skills can be an extremely boring practice. But implementing cutting into actually creating their very own wedding dress becomes a necessary skill students want to learn, because without cutting there would be no dress!
Using both methods can be extremely beneficial for students and teachers in terms of effective learning and teaching. Both of these approaches provide students with different experiences, as well as providing you with different information about students’ knowledge and skills.
Implementing qualitative methods of evaluation can significantly enrich your students’ experience, as well as their learning!
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