Evaluations are a major component of assessment at institutions of higher learning. Schools utilize evaluations to assess everything from the performance of entire courses and faculty to individual student performance and more. These evaluations are often very formal and play a significant role (even if they shouldn’t) in personnel decisions among faculty and staff. Many of us remember filling out evaluation forms for faculty and courses at the end of the semester as undergraduates, and I remember thinking many times, “Is there any way I could get this type of feedback for myself? That would be more meaningful, ultimately, than simply an A or B on my grade report.”
As a student, I really craved feedback on my academic performance and always appreciated the many informal conversations with faculty regarding my understanding of that day’s material. However, many times, understandably, faculty were unable to have that conversation as they rushed off to teach another class or meet with students during their office hours. Teaching multiple classes with over a hundred enrolled students, I could not begin to expect faculty to provide the necessary feedback for every single student in each of their courses. Fortunately, there’s an alternative - other students! Taken in aggregate, peer feedback can be very valuable. And, with a rise in active and group learning strategies, there are more opportunities than ever for students to provide each other with feedback.
Student evaluations of other students can play an important role in student learning by providing students opportunities for feedback on their understanding of important concepts. These evaluations can take the form of anything from very informal surveys when working in groups to a summative component that may or may not have a bearing on student scores. In either case, it’s also easy enough to make student comments anonymous to each other, but not course faculty. In any case, this peer feedback can serve as a trigger for students to seek extra support or guidance from course faculty.
Peer evaluations have been shown to be effective tools for assessing student professionalism in medical school settings and, when appropriately implemented, students are willing to participate in a peer evaluation process. In some cases, students have shown concern about participating in transparent (i.e. non anonymous) peer evaluation systems, but this could be overcome with increasing student rapport within peer groups and/or providing anonymous opportunities for peer feedback as well. Students have also indicated that clearly defined standardized criteria (e.g. a rubric) is important when completing peer evaluations.
While peer evaluations can provide valuable feedback for students, sometimes, students aren’t working in groups and/or peer feedback may not be appropriate given the circumstance. That doesn’t mean that students need not reflect on feedback - even if that feedback comes from themselves! Self-evaluations, perhaps more appropriately termed self-reflection, can also play a pivotal role in student learning.
Students often seem to be as hard on themselves as anyone when critically analyzing their own performance, knowledge, or understanding of a topic. This means it is important to provide students with a clearly defined set of criteria when evaluating themselves. Using tools, such as rubrics, allow students to more objectively analyze themselves, whether they are evaluating their performance on an exam, their professionalism, or their contribution to peer groups (team-based or problem-based learning). Some schools even have students complete self-evaluations after reviewing video of their standardized patient encounters. When students receive their scores on the same evaluation from faculty, they may have a better understanding of their faculty assigned score. This also can allow for richer discussions when students seek faculty feedback. Faculty members have the student’s own views of their performance that can be discussed and shared alongside the faculty evaluation. This creates not just an opportunity for feedback and an explanation, but it also facilities rich learning opportunities for students.
One of the most important considerations when utilizing peer or self evaluations is the structure of the evaluation tool. You might be surprised, but students complete a lot of surveys and/or evaluations in higher education these days. Keeping your evaluation tools succinct while still allowing opportunity for students to critically evaluate each other and/or themselves is especially important. A mix of Likert scale-type questions alongside open-ended questions typically allow for a good mix of quantifiable data as well as qualitative, perhaps more actionable comments. Some even suggest that specifically asking for strengths as well as weaknesses, often yields more practical responses to evaluation questions.
Another consideration, especially, for more structured, Likert scale-type questions, is providing defined criteria (i.e. a rubric) for students to utilize as they make their selections when evaluating each other or themselves. This takes some of the objectivity away and allows students to complete the assessment based on simply the merit of the evaluatee's performance.
Many tools today allow you to build and assign evaluations quickly and easily, even making the student-student connections based on group enrollment! And, while peer evaluations allow students to get feedback from each other, it doesn’t mean faculty and course coordinators shouldn’t examine the results. Using tools that allow you to view evaluation data in aggregate makes life much easier! And, some tools, like DaVinci’s Leo, can even trigger immediate email warnings if students choose specific responses. For example, when students are rated extremely poorly or if a response to a question would dictate immediate action by school personnel, the appropriate faculty, staff, or administration can be notified immediately upon submission of the evaluation. You don’t have to wait for the analysis of the results at the end of the evaluation period! This allows faculty, staff, and/or administrators to take swift action to address concerns as quickly as possible.
Evaluations are an important assessment tool, and, when designed and implemented with careful consideration can allow not just faculty, staff, and administrators to gain insight into student performance, but the use of peer and self-evaluations can also allow students themselves to get feedback on their own performance. This provides students the timely opportunity to reflect upon and address any shortcomings that they may not have perceived otherwise.