Modern Tools for Modern Times

As an academic and facilitator for nearly 30 years, I have a love/hate relationship with the ubiquitous “course evaluation survey” students are asked to complete.

I love feedback!

On the one hand, I love receiving feedback on what they liked/disliked about the course/program and my teaching/facilitation style as well as suggestions for improvement. On the other hand, I dislike the disproportionate emphasis placed on one-off surveys as the primary means of evaluating teaching/facilitator performance. I also dislike the plethora of questions of questionable value-added to track other information resulting in fewer students/participants taking time to complete the survey.

For example, questions about diverse topics such as room quality, textbook, catering, content relevance, and volume of learning are included which have no relationship to evaluating the teacher/facilitator. Collecting these data is arguably important for institutions for other purposes and fulfill regulatory requirements but using a “one-size-fits-all” survey to collect them as part of the teacher evaluation process isn’t appropriate.

Collecting the right data

We know we all need feedback – this is one of the methods by which we learn and develop – and if carried out well it works!  Educational institutions need mechanisms to collect performance data. And regulators need data to measure the system’s performance. But with the shift from teacher centered to student-centred learning, are we even collecting the right data? What about the learner experience itself? In the contemporary world of online learning where the teacher is no longer the main deliverer of knowledge, does having a student evaluation of teachers even make sense?

As I reflected on the conundrum of teacher evaluations and learner experience, what struck me is that teacher evaluation surveys are an old paradigm means to collect data. What we really need is a new paradigm collecting learning-related data. One capturing insight into the autonomy, confidence, and personal growth of the learner themselves rather than one that evaluates teachers on their delivery skills. Fortuitously, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) offers such an approach. SCT provides relevant evidence of learner progress by drawing on the LEX Design elements relating to cognitive psychology, educational pedagogy, and neuroscience.

Measuring Learning Outcomes

The SCT framework for collecting data starts with identifying learning outcomes for the course or program learners will be undertaking. It’s standard practice in education to articulate learning outcomes when developing courses and programs so that’s the easy bit. The achievement of learning outcomes is then normally measured through formative and summative assessments, either grade or competency-based. The problem is that the assessment process reinforces student dependence on teachers and undermines their journey to becoming autonomous, confident, and personally responsible lifelong learners.

In contrast, the SCT framework uses the learner’s self-efficacy beliefs – their confidence in their competence and personal agency and control to achieve learning outcomes – to independently assess learner progress. Self-efficacy beliefs are the core activation mechanism within SCT. Indeed, thousands of studies have shown the positive empirical relationship between learner self-efficacy and academic and work-related performance. Therefore, by measuring the strength and magnitude of learner confidence about learning outcomes BEFORE and AFTER a course/program, a statistically sound predictor of behaviour and performance is made. Ultimately, learner self-efficacy beliefs will be reflected in their academic or work performance. As a metric, self-efficacy beliefs provide a tangible and quantitatively valid means to demonstrate return on educational investment.

Feedback Loops for Learners

More importantly, measuring self-efficacy beliefs provides a positive, feedback loop to learners themselves on the progress they’ve made against set learning outcomes. Boosting learner self-efficacy beliefs is crucial to stimulate their motivation and perseverance towards achieving goals. Traditionally, feedback comes from teachers through both formal and informal verbal and written assessments. As teacher-centered learning continues to shift towards student-centered learning – accelerated by the rapid adoption of online learning – teacher evaluation surveys will be increasingly irrelevant. Instead, self-efficacy belief evaluations provide a fitting alternative for LEX-designed courses and programs.

Measuring self-efficacy beliefs provides numerous other benefits for educators and their institutions. For example, it provides an impartial measure of the effectiveness of different course formats (online vs. blended vs. physical). Similarly, measuring self-efficacy beliefs provides feedback to teachers on their effectiveness as facilitators. Measuring learner self-efficacy beliefs will enable teachers to provide priority support for those learners with lower self-efficacy beliefs than their peers. Finally, from a regulatory and marketing perspective, tracking learner self-efficacy beliefs provides tangible evidence to support the effectiveness of the pedagogical approach used by the educational institution for learner performance.

Breakfast of Champions

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Measuring learner self-efficacy beliefs provides the best available means to get feedback to the people who need it most: the learner.

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