3 Ways Technology is Changing Course Evaluations

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Technology is improving course evaluations and making them an increasingly important data tool.

Course evaluations have always been an important tool for optimizing the learning experience, but they can often be time-consuming, produce massive paper trails, and lead to lengthy feedback loops that see learner feedback applied well after-the-fact. Technology is changing all that, making course evaluations better, faster and stronger.

With the rise of learning analytics and the value being placed on performance data, course evaluations, and the metrics they can provide, are more important now than ever before.

“It’s critical that there be multiple data dimensions in the teaching and learning space. The data that comes from course evaluation feedback provides great support to the data you can get from student information systems, and the behavioral data you can get from learning management systems,” says Samer Saab, CEO of eXplorance, a learning experience management (LEM) solutions provider that empowers organizations to make decisions with fact-based learning analytics, and a D2L partner.

“All three working together will contribute greatly to a learning analytics strategy that will help institutions and organizations make the right decisions.”

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At their core, course evaluations are about performance measurement and incremental improvement of learning experiences—the learner feedback collected lets instructors and learning leaders make informed decisions around improving teaching and learning, and how a course and course content is ultimately delivered over time. Thanks to technology, the data that comes from course evaluations is becoming deeper and more actionable than ever.

Technology’s not only transforming the speed with which today’s course evaluations are delivered, collected and analyzed, but also substantially enriching the quality and veracity of the feedback, as well as how and when that feedback can be acted upon.

Here are three specific ways in which technology is changing course evaluations for the better, and making them a more crucial cog in any learning analytics strategy:

Faster and more efficient feedback loops

The most important element of making use of any kind of feedback is the ability to quickly close the feedback loop. Technology is helping educators close the course evaluation feedback loop faster than ever before.

The emergence of online evaluation platforms is increasingly allowing course evaluations to be delivered, feedback gathered and data analyzed, at unprecedented speeds. Closing the feedback loop has become a matter of hours, not months.

Online evaluation platforms can also be integrated with the learner information systems, as well as learning management systems. This not only makes course evaluations more accessible to learners and instructors alike, but also to make the evaluation process even easier and faster by leveraging information like course enrollment data to automate the delivery of evaluations and analytics reports.

Qualitative data mining

Digital technology is enabling educators to gather all sorts of new intel from course evaluations. One way this is happening is through the integration of open text analytics tools into online evaluation platforms.

Open text analytics allow for the inclusion of questions that encourage open-ended learner feedback—responses written in natural language. That allows educators to mine and make sense of more qualitative data, the kind of data that can’t be gleaned from the close-ended, limited-scope type of questioning conventions that have been traditionally used in course evaluations, like agreement scales and multiple choice.

As open text analytics capabilities continue to evolve, it’s likely that all the insights educators would ever need could be gleaned from a single, detailed paragraph.

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Combining summative and formative evaluation

Course evaluations have typically been backward looking, delivered as a summative experience at the end of a course or learning experience. The fast-feedback loop and greater qualitative data capabilities enabled by technology are allowing them to be forward looking and more formative in nature too.

Learners are now being empowered to use their feedback to affect their own learning experience from day one, and there’s less pressure put on instructors—rather than being forced to face a potential tumult of critical feedback at the end of a course, instructors can use online evaluation platforms to take a more formative approach, proactively gauging, reacting to and incorporating qualitative data from learner feedback to improve the learning experience on the fly. It keeps both learners and instructors engaged in the learning experience, and allows instructors better track learner’s progress, support them, and help them achieve successful outcomes.

All in all, the ability to complement summative with formative evaluation data allows instructors and learning leaders to continuously improve the learning experience, making it a dynamic process rather than an incremental one, and a better experience for everyone involved.