Transforming the Classroom: Including Undergraduate Students in Program Evaluation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Student evaluations are used across university campuses as a measure of a teacher's ability to teach. Student standardized evaluations provide instructors with important feedback from the student's point-of-view and allow administrators to gauge the effectiveness of every teacher's instruction. The premise that student evaluations are reproducible and useful for evaluation has been accepted since the 1980s (Theall, Abrami, & Mets, 2001); however, there is a growing body of literature that examines the usefulness and validity of student evaluations. Critics of student evaluations often cite incorrect use of global questions, rating scales, and timeframe of administration as central problems for their usefulness. In an effort to improve the process, Davis (1995) suggests the creation of faculty-developed evaluation instruments suited to individual departmental curriculum and purpose (Divoky, 1995). Industry has adopted similar feedback methods which include "upward feedback" and the more popular 360-feedback assessment, where the fundamental premise is to gather information about organizations from multiple perspectives, specifically employees. The advantages of assessments like 360-feedback are widely recognized and offer several advantages over single-source assessment such as new perspectives with which to judge employees, reinforcement of organizational values and visions, and more comprehensive and objective data than one source (Fleener & Prince, 1997).

In summer 2008, faculty in the Recreation and Tourism Management (RTM) program at Georgia Southern University recognized a particular need in relation to evaluating overall student perceptions of the RTM program. While University supported course evaluations were in existence, an evaluation of the RTM program exploring issues related to curriculum, advisors, professional experiences, and internships did not exist. In an effort to improve the evaluation process and gain greater insight into student's perspective of the RTM program, a unique semester-long evaluation project was integrated into the Evaluation and Research course curriculum. The most unique factor of the project was the collaboration between faculty and students as they worked side-by-side to create a student exit-survey examining various aspects of the RTM program.

Description of the Activity

Students enrolled in RECR 4536--Evaluation and Research--learned survey techniques in a traditional classroom setting combined with a five phase group evaluation project. Students were placed in groups (6-8 students) to work on a semester long evaluation project that comprised 40% of their final grade. Each phase allowed the instructor to judge student progress, provide feedback, and assign points that accrued towards the final grade.

In this course, students were asked to assist the faculty and administration in improving the RTM program through their input and feedback. They were informed how important of a role their perspective would play in evaluating the program and improving it for future students. The introduction of this project as more of a charge for the students, rather than group work, excited the class and made them feel part of something that would make a difference in the future. Phase one included forming groups and developing a two page project proposal that included a title, abstract, names and contact information of group members, an introduction to the project, research questions, and potential impact of the project. This phase allowed students to become familiar with group members and ask important questions to clarify the purpose of the project.

The second phase required students to conduct a literature review and compile an annotated bibliography with ten sources (no more than three web-sites) in American Psychological Association (5th ed.) format. This phase of the project occurred in a computer lab and required students to search for literature as a class. …