My school has online end-of-semester evaluations from the students, which means we have access to their responses as soon as the final grades go in. I really value student feedback in my courses, but these end-of-semester one-size-fits-all evaluations are just not very useful, which is why I build in other ways to get feedback from my students throughout the semester. I'm sure other instructors make those kinds of efforts as well, but what I want to focus on here is the abject failure to collect more/better learning data on an institutional level. My guess is that my school is typical of higher education: students complete optional end-of-semester course evaluations with a few rating questions and a few open-ended questions (my school has a drawing for iPads as prizes in an attempt to raise the low response rates), and instructors are required to submit a final grade for each student. As for self-assessment, which I personally think is the most important: there is no self-assessment. No student self-assessment, and no teacher self-assessment either.
I've summarized the situation as I see it in this chart:
Especially in a digital world, it would not be hard to expand our current assessment efforts in order to do more. Self-assessments would help acknowledge that the most important element in any learning situation is the learner herself: if we want to create lifelong learners (and surely we do, right?), then we need to help learners — all learners — to set their own goals and assess their own progress is the most important thing we can do in my opinion. Self-directed, self-motivated, autonomous learners. That applies not just to students but also to faculty; for faculty to continuously improve their teaching, they need to reflect on their teaching and constantly set new goals for themselves.
Nothing in the current system is proactive in that sense; it is all reactive and backward-looking. The result is a kind of terrible "blame game" i.e., teacher gives student a bad grade: "you didn't learn!" and students give teachers bad evaluations: "you didn't teach!" That is really not the best way for everybody to improve, which is what we want and need, right? Students need to improve their learning and teachers need to improve their teaching. In both cases, we are the ones most essential in making that habit: students need to take responsibility for improving their learning, and teachers need to take responsibility for improving their teaching. I believe that self-assessment is the key ingredient in that type of ongoing transformation and improvement.
Things are even worse when we look at "big data" and the analytics movement. There, instead of 3 out of 8 possibilities (see chart above), we are relying on only one data point: grades, and only grades. As far as I know, end-of-semester evaluations are not used for any big-data initiatives at my school (or anywhere?). Indeed, because we make promises of total anonymity to the students, we cannot even put the data to use for their benefit. For example: a student who rates many of their classes as being poor in quality might be a student who could benefit from an advising intervention even if — especially if — their grades are good.
So, anyway, that is how things look from my vantage point as an instructor at a big public university. I try to promote lots of opportunities for self-assessment in my classes, and I practice self-assessment as part of my own professional development... but none of that feeds into the institutional data-gathering efforts at my school. Are people doing some good self-assessment initiatives at other schools? If so, please share here! That would be great to hear about!
For resources (LOTS of resources) on feedback and its importance in learning, here is my Diigo library: Feedback Articles and Infographics.
And of course I have a cat for that. :-)
And that cat was in turned inspired by this reflection infographic from the ever-awesome Jackie Gerstein: