Course and Instructor Evaluations: Misconceptions and Realities

If evaluation sounds good in theory but feels bad in practice, it may be that you or others are operating under some common misconceptions.

Misconception: Outcomes are the only things worth measuring.

Reality: Outcomes, such as numbers of new courses developed, enrollments, retention, and satisfaction levels, are important and they should be measured. But it’s also important to evaluate critical processes, such as support for faculty course development, relationships between course designers and developers and faculty, and student ability to get help as needed.

The processes that are involved in producing and delivering online courses and instruction should be evaluated alongside the outcomes of these processes so it’s possible to see what changes would allow for better outcomes.

I recently worked with an institution that had an adversarial relationship between faculty and the online course development team, and both spent time pointing fingers to explain why the results weren’t optimal. What they didn’t see was that this adversarial relationship created bottlenecks and course development problems. Obvious solution? Build a better process and fix the damage caused by the old one.

If the process of producing and delivering online courses and instruction is problematic, courses and instruction are also likely to be problematic—and these problems are unlikely to improve without improving the process. So, while evaluating outcomes, it’s also important to evaluate the processes that impact those outcomes. You will find inefficiencies, poor relationships, rework, contention, and more that are making better outcomes difficult or impossible.

Misconception: Evaluation is a CYA activity to be endured.

Reality: The purpose of evaluation should be to continuously improve, not to check off boxes on a checklist and then breathe a sigh of relief until evaluation needs to be done again.

Most higher education institutions conduct end-of-course evaluations, but this kind of evaluation often doesn’t result in significant improvements to courses and cannot impact courses in progress.

Because end-of-course evaluations may be required but often aren’t sufficient, some online instructors have begun to implement weekly or bimonthly anonymous evaluations by students so they can make changes to the course and the process in the here and now.

Bottom line? The purpose of evaluating online courses and instruction should be improvement, not pain. And improvement efforts are most successful when they are valuable to all concerned. So analyze whether the misconceptions described in this article apply to your institution—and if some do, consider how to change them for the better.

Course and Instructor Evaluation: If It’s So Good, Why Does It Feel So Bad? excerpted from Online Classroom, January 2008.