Using assessment surveys can be a great way to allow students the opportunity to provide feedback to evaluate the efficiency of your courses. They can be reference points for well-received topics or most remembered assignments and give educators the chance to see how well they are doing.
However, surveys are subject to cognitive bias and are not always honest reflections of students' thoughts and opinions. Carefully constructed or vague questions can lead students to give a specific answer when they may have otherwise responded differently. While there is still value in surveys, an ePortfolio is an alternative way to gather data while allowing students to recall their course material creatively.
An ePortfolio is a collection of a student's work. It can be a combination of writing samples, class projects, recommendations, analyses, artwork, and a variety of other examples of coursework. In the college setting, these portfolios can be a place to showcase skills and creativity while also demonstrating valuable takeaways from their courses. These assessments are an excellent way to receive educator feedback while simultaneously providing students with tangible evidence of their completed work to show to future employers and interviewers or references for later work.
Why End-of-the Semester Assessments Can be Biased
The end-of-the-semester or course assessment should be an honest reflection of your institution. The accuracy and validity of the students are vital to collecting quality data that can affect decisions about departments, classes, instructors, and more.
Cognitive bias plays a part in our decisions, even when we're unaware of it. Due to the mental shortcuts our brains create, bias affects our memory and retention and can impact survey and assessment answers. Recognizing that bias exists is the first step in evaluating responses and understanding how to avoid it.
One of the most common forms of response bias is recency bias. The traditional end-of-the-semester assessments may be based on only the most recent events rather than significant or more relevant past events. Asking students to recall an event will likely lead to responses about the last several weeks rather than a reflection of the entire semester because that's what is freshest in their minds.
You may also encounter:
- Sampling bias, or marketing to a small group
- Response bias, or receiving responses based on specifically framed questions
- Researcher bias, or including or ignoring data to see a specific result
Studies have shown that a gender bias also exists in evaluations. Students criticize male instructors less often than their female counterparts for being harsh graders. Students also find male professors to be more accurate, enthusiastic, and educated. Additionally, students prefer to take courses with professors of the same gender as themselves.
An end-of-the-semester assessment can quickly become counterproductive without accurate responses. While providing valuable insight, surveys are only as beneficial as the content you place within them.
Avoiding Bias in Evaluation Surveys
Although bias will always exist, there are ways to reduce its presence in evaluation surveys.
Creating open-ended response questions allow students to provide answers they can't simply select and allows them to give more honest answers. Make sure the questions and instructions are straightforward. Asking multiple questions simultaneously can confuse students, and their answers won't reflect their honest opinions. It's also more likely they will ignore one or more of the questions if questions are grouped together.
Instead of creating order-based questions that correspond with the chronological timeline of events, use a variety of scattered questions. When related questions are next to each other, students can mentally link them and subconsciously allow one answer to affect another.
The questions you compose should be written in neutral language wherever possible. When students feel they're agreeing with or evaluating a person rather than a course, their answers are more biased. Removing questions involving a scale or highlighting another person's feelings will improve the likelihood of honest responses.
Although you can reduce bias, you can't eliminate it entirely. Always remember that bias will exist, but you can find common themes in responses and determine how your institution can benefit from evaluation surveys. For example, courses requiring a smaller workload tend to receive more positive feedback, even if the information is not as beneficial as in other classes. Determining where the bias lies in feedback is crucial when determining what is and isn't valuable to students.
Survey and ePortfolio End-of-Semester Reviews
The more data you have, the more conclusive your results will be. Rather than choosing one process over another, utilize both. Incorporating surveys and ePortfolios is an excellent way to evaluate student responses.
Utilizing ePortfolios is a great way to capture critical assessments, analyze their effectiveness, and track progression. Educators can track progression and log observations easily to note student engagement, comprehension, enjoyment, and more to evaluate course effectiveness. An ePortfolio end-of-year review provides students with a way to showcase their work and allows instructors to determine significant takeaways.
Student benefits of ePortfolios include:
- Reflecting on their work: Rather than evaluating an instructor, students can reflect on the work they have completed throughout the course. They can interpret their takeaways and apply what they feel was important or constructive.
- Having proof of their accomplishments: ePortfolios give students an opportunity to collect their work in one place. They can showcase their achievements to potential employers and other instructors and as a reference for future projects.
- Incorporating creativity: Students can creatively express their feelings about what they've learned. When they can apply their thoughts in fun ways, they are more engaged with the activity.
Although less bias is present in ePortfolios, surveys still hold weight when determining what is working and what needs readjustment. While ePortfolios can showcase course retention, surveys can indicate other areas of campus life that need improvements, such as spending, public relations, available activities, and safety regulations. You can use Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys to obtain feedback and receive actionable steps based on those responses. This software lets you monitor trends over time and quickly distribute results to other administrators and faculty.
Institutions can use student surveys and ePortfolios for an end-of-semester assessment to determine what elements are working well and where there's room for improvement. If most students find value in a specific assignment or project, you know the instructor should continue to assign it. With a combination of ePortfolios and surveys, students can evaluate the insight they gained and highlight the course as beneficial or unhelpful, depending on the level of comprehension reflected in their portfolios.
Watermark Student Learning & Licensure
Watermark has over 20 years of industry knowledge and experience. We provide solutions that offer a wide range of functionality and give you the means to collect, manage, and measure data to streamline institutional efforts. We strive to develop solutions that education institutions can use to make significant improvements.
Watermark Student Learning & Licensure enables students to complete assignments, log experiences, and reflect on work while receiving feedback from instructors. Our ePortfolios aim to improve higher education programs by letting institutions collect data over time and store it for further analysis.
Request a demo of Student Learning & Licensure to learn more about what our software can do to create flexible assessments and reports that you can utilize to improve your institution.
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