Writing a Course Review

I recently met with a student who had been unsuccessful in achieving the criteria for one of the assignments on the PCTHE. Most of my comments are of a general nature regarding the writing of a course review, so I thought I would post them.

  1. Back up your assertions with evidence. As teachers and students in higher education we must be familiar with the many forms that evidence can take. Avoid unsubstantiated statements and in every case where an assertion is made, think of how it might be evidenced.
  2. In general we are interested in your experience, ideas and theories, not your ability to reproduce the theories of others. Theory is simply an answer to the question “why”? That is, one of the principal purposes of theory is explanatory. It does help to recognise the theories of others that came before and have also experienced similar questions and come up with their own explanations. One of the principal theories that underlies this course is Constructive Alignment. Frequently problems in course reviews arise at least in part due to a lack of such alignment. And, a solution might, in part, lie in taking an aligned approach to course and assessment design and implementation. Remember there should be alignment between objectives – or “intended learning outcomes” (what the learners should be able to DO), learning activities in the classroom (or wider teaching environment), which allow the students to practice the objectives, and assessments which allow the students to demonstrate that they can do what ever the objectives suggest. Assessments should be backed up with criteria by which that doing can be evaluated.
  3. Tell the story. Start at the begining:
  • In the first paragraph state the key point of the paper (write this after you have written the rest)
  • I first taught this course …
  • It attracts such and such kind of students. Be as precise as you can with the observable demographics: age range, gender mix, full-time/part-time, in employment or not, etc. Avoid simplistic psychometrics (learning styles, etc) unless you have a particular reason to use them.
  • The course as inherited had these characteristics:stage, CATS points, programme context; external professional bodies (referees); aims (what you and the referees want to achieve); learning objectives (what the students must DO); teaching activities; assessments
  • The course as inherited had these problems (whatever they were). Provide evidence for how you know these were problems: i.e. attendance, participation, engagement, outcome (exam) results, informal feedback, your own observation, discussion with students, discussion with colleagues, etc. Draw on the writings and theories of others to show that these problems are not unique to your situation. That is to say, use outside authorities to show that your problems may be generalisable to a wider context.
  • In light of the students and the problems observed, you have made the following changes: changes implemented during operation in the first year (i.e. through reflection IN practice); changes implemented in a revision (i.e. through reflection ON practice)
  • Evaluation: how will you know the changes have been effective?
  • Next steps

Evaluating blogs and reflection

The assessment or evaluation of critical reflective writing is problematic. Some take it as too personal and subjective and therefore do not presume to judge others’ reflection. On the other hand, in some disciplines reflection is formally incorporated as an assessed component.

I came across two sets of criteria for the assessment of students’ blog writing in the links in a post by Emma Duke Williams, via Stephen Downs’ On Line Daily. Emma questions the value of grading student blogging, but recognises that when used in an educational context it is practically inevitable. Stephen is, as would be expected, rather more robust in his rejection of the assessment of blogging, “Honestly, I think that the whole idea of grading student blogging is to miss the point of blogging. You may say it’s “inevitable” that staff will want to grade blogging – well, I say, don’t cater to that, don’t make it easier, don’t give them metrics – make them do their own work, so that they are completely culpable for ruining writing for children and youth.”

Well, here are the metrics. You decide if they are useful of not:

Both reminded me very closely of the criteria that the OCSLD team came up with for the overall assessment of participants on the Brookes Postgraduate certificate in teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). I’ll post these shortly.