This is an Eval Central archive copy, find the original at danawanzer.com
What if we taught like we evaluated? I have been imaging what teaching might look like if we approached it like we did our evaluation work. Just like there are a variety of different approaches and strategies teachers use in their courses (e.g., inclusive pedagogy, team-based learning, problem-based learning, lecture-based instruction) there are a variety of different approaches and strategies evaluators use in their evaluations (e.g., participatory, values-engaged, culturally responsive, democratic, developmental, utilization-focused, mixed methods, theory-driven).
Despite the variety of approaches to both teaching and evaluation, there is a general logic that underlies both teaching and evaluation (Fournier, 1995; Scriven, 1980). At the heart of evaluation is a basic four step process:
- Establish criteria of merit
- Develop standards of performance along each criterion
- Measure performance and compare with standards
- Synthesize results into an evaluative judgment
As I critically rethink my teaching philosophy, I am increasingly considering how I can bring the general logic of evaluation—and the working logics of the approaches to evaluation I tend to use—to my teaching practice. I am starting to believe that if I evaluated the way we tend to teach that I would not retain clients for very long, and so I believe it is important I change how I approach my teaching.
The Typical Teaching Approach
From my experience teaching, reading about teaching, and discussing teaching with other instructors, this is a little like what most teaching seems to look like, aligned with the general logic of evaluation four-step process above:
- Instructors set the learning objectives prior to meeting with students, which often need to get approval at the department, college, and university level.
- Instructors determine what constitutes the grading rubric or expectations for each assignment (note: not usually per learning objective).
- Instructors measure performance of students, although there may be some peer assessment or outside assessment components (e.g., client feedback in the case of a service learning course).
- Instructors determine the overall grade of the student.
Note how instructors determine pretty much all of it, and often without consultation of the primary ‘stakeholder’ involved in the education process: students. If we were to apply this approach to our program evaluations, it would look something like this:
- Evaluators set the criteria for evaluating the program before meeting with the program itself but will require approval by governing bodies and funders first.
- Evaluators will develop standards of performance along those criteria, but again without any program input.
- Evaluators will measure the performance of the program, often not including programs in that performance measurement. However, a small piece of it may include other programs measuring your program’s performance, or getting feedback from some outside stakeholders.
- Evaluators determine the final evaluative judgment of the program. Again, no input given by stakeholders.
Realizing this made me cringe. This is not how I would ever approach my evaluations. Although I know some folks do their evaluations like this, most folks tend to take a more collaborative or participatory approach, align their evaluations with their program’s needs, being culturally responsive in their approach, adjust the evaluation according to the situation, and focus on promoting use.
Applying the logic of evaluation to teaching
So what if we were to instead apply how we typically approach our evaluation work to our teaching? This is what Fournier (1995) calls the working logics of evaluation. At the heart of any evaluation approach is the general logic of evaluation, but that general logic can look different depending on our approaches. Let’s see what teaching might look like if we apply my typical evaluation approach (e.g., utilization-focused, culturally responsive, contingency-based, theory-driven, etc.).
- Instructors collaborate with students to determine the learning objectives prior to the course. This is done based on a variety of factors, including what background knowledge and experience the student brings to the course, what they are hoping to get out of the course, and feedback and requirements from external sources (e.g., accreditation requirements, degree requirements, professional association recommendations, career expectations, research on the field of study, research on the pedagogy in the field of study). Although there may be set criteria across all students in the classroom, there is some individuality in the criteria per each student given individual needs.
- Instructors collaborate with students to develop standards of performance. There are a variety of ways this could be done, including setting the standards of performance ahead of time together, the instructor providing standards and giving students an opportunity to reflect and revise, or letting students determine what their standard of performance is for an assignment. Again, external sources may have some sway here to help students get their degree and career they are aiming for.
- Instructors and students jointly measure performance. Peer evaluations and outside evaluations can continue to be used, but at least students are brought into the process through practices like asking students to grade themselves on their pre-determined standards of performance.
- Instructors and students jointly determine the overall grade and final evaluative judgment of the student. Again, the extent of control of this process by students may vary, but they can provide at least some input into the process and final judgment.
This reflection has led me to pursue changing how I approach my courses for the upcoming semesters. In particular, I have begun revising my courses to promote Ungrading (Blum, 2020), which at the heart of it promotes feedback and learning as opposed to instructor-led student evaluation. Some of the authors in the edited volume go so far as to say that evaluation should not be done at all, although I’m not sure I am willing to go so far as that. However, giving students some autonomy over their learning, meeting students where they are at, matching the course to their needs, and promoting the incorporation of feedback and learning are all things that I agree with and want to promote in my teaching. Just like program evaluation can both evaluate and promote learning, so too can our teaching, if we are thoughtful in how we approach it.
 I have not thought much about what the general logic of teaching is, but I would be curious if anyone knows of any references pointing to the topic. The Fournier (1995) article points to references on the general logic of law, medicine, and science, but not education.