Obviously, it's always a good idea for teachers to be tuned in to the feelings and perceptions of their students. Moreover, it's extremely useful to be able to detect trends in student achievement whenever possible. As a qualitative analysis professor of mine once said, "The world out there may seem to be just a bunch of random chaos, but there are meaningful patterns in that chaos if we know how to look for them." I've learned to look for the patterns and trends in my classes by tracking data. This blog discusses three of my favourite approaches to collecting and tracking such data.
Online Class Surveys:
Early on in my courses, I launch and distribute a series of online surveys to see how my students are finding my classes. My survey questions explore topics ranging from how well I explain the overall objective of the course to how much I tend to emphasize thinking in the course. (To see a complete list of my survey questions, please see the attached text file below.)
I've enjoyed using this style of survey early on in the course because it's a lot easier to make subtle adjustments nearer the beginning of a course than nearer the end. In addition, if students are displeased with something about my course, my mode of delivery, or my teaching style, then it hasn't been happening long enough for them to be really upset, so the responses tend to be quite balanced and useful.
I use Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) to launch separate surveys for each of my courses. There are certainly other survey applications available on the web, but I can definitely vouch for the fact that Survey Monkey makes it quick and easy to set and launch surveys, and to then analyze the data. You can also use an LMS such as Blackboard or Desire2Learn to do something similar, but I think sites like Survey Monkey are a little faster and slicker - especially on the data analysis side of things. I should add, however, that Google Forms provide yet another powerful survey tool that teachers can readily use.
Online, Anonymous Suggestion Boxes:
Another terrific application for an online survey is to set up an anonymous suggestion box. All you need to do is set up a new survey with a single, open-ended, written response question, such as: "What thoughts, comments, or suggestions would you like to share regarding the CIA4U course at this point in time?" Make sure you select one of the "textbox" options for the question type, and you're off to the races. Then, from time to time, you just check in on the survey responses to see if you've received any new feedback. It's a good idea to share any input you receive - good or bad - with the class so as to highlight the fact that you do in fact read and consider the input that your students provide. (The only exception might be in cases where you receive sensitive or confidential information regarding activities that might be occurring in your classroom, such as bullying or harassment. In such cases, you may wish to deal with the matter in a more discreet manner.) Other than that, there's nothing else you'll need to do: you won't need to revamp or update your suggestion box survey for the duration of the course. Give this a try: it's quick and easy, and it can provide you with tremendously valuable ideas and insight.
Comprehensive Assessment Tracking - Spreadsheets:
For most of my career, I've used Excel spreadsheets to track data from test results, presentations, essays, exams, etc. I originally set up a spreadsheet to do this around twenty years ago, and I've simply been copying and modifying the same spreadsheet ever since.
I don't just use these spreadsheets to track test scores: I track the results for each question within a test. (Although I won't say I track each individual multiple choice question. I let the Scantron machine do that.) This allows me to quickly see how well the class has done on each question. It also allows me to compare class results from section to section and from year to year.
If you'd like to take a closer look, or even try this out for yourself, you can download a working example of an Excel file that I've set up as a typical test tracking sheet. (See the attached files at the end of this blog post.)
Points to Note:
The overall class results at the top of the columns are only looking at a pre-determined range of cells, so if you add more students or questions onto a given spreadsheet, then you may need to adjust the cell ranges to ensure that the spreadsheet is looking at all of your data.
I will also point out that you can easily copy and modify a worksheet within a given Excel file, allowing just one Excel file to contain all of the individual worksheets you may require for the various tests and assignments in a given course. (To copy a worksheet within a spreadsheet file, just right click on the tab at the bottom of the worksheet, then click on "Move or Copy," and then check the box that says, "Copy.")
This protocol may seem like a lot of work at the front end, but once the initial worksheet has been set up and populated with your class roster, then it's no work at all to generate subsequent tracking sheets. (Important Tip: Do be sure that your students are listed in the exact same order as they are found within your grades manager.) In the short to medium run, these tracking sheets will save you more time just in adding up the marks on the individual tests (which a spreadsheet does quickly and accurately) than they take to set up. The ability to track results across different types of test questions, as well as the ability to make year-over-year comparisons, are a pure bonus on your time investment.
If collecting class input and tracking data is something that you might be interested in exploring, then I hope you'll give some of these methods a try. I always appreciate hearing your feedback, so do let me know how it goes.
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.