UNSW CATEI - Course and Teaching Evaluation and Improvement
UNSW is committed to achieving continued improvement in the quality of teaching, courses and programs. The Course and Teaching Evaluation and Improvement (CATEI) process is a key component of university policy in this area. In previous years, the CATEI process has been included in the Learning and Teaching Performance Indicators.
As part of the university's commitment to quality teaching and to continued improvement, staff are expected to undertake at least one teaching evaluation each year. Staff will also be expected to provide evidence of critical reflection on their teaching when compiling a teaching portfolio for promotion, grants, and awards.
See on this page:
- Sample CATEI questionnaires
- What you can learn from CATEI?
- Strategies for responding to feedback
- How to obtain more information
- Communicating the changes you make to students
- Contacts and further information
The following forms are samples only - you are welcome to download them, but do not print and distribute these sample copies for use with students. Obtain the correct forms from the CATEI coordinator in your School or Faculty.
You can obtain feedback and evidence about the quality of your courses and teaching from many sources. Student responses to course and teaching evaluation questionnaires such as those used in the CATEI process represent just one of these sources. Nevertheless, numerous studies have shown that feedback based on students' actual experiences of a course and of the way it is taught can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of the learning and teaching environment.
To teach better, and for students to learn better, the most useful way to think of the CATEI process is not as an administrative necessity or as personally threatening, but as an opportunity for critical reflection and for engaging in productive dialogue with students and peers.
You might feel sceptical about the value and reliability of student approval ratings - that's understandable. Nevertheless, evidence does suggest that such ratings are a valid and reliable indicator of the quality of courses and teaching, as long as students are asked to comment only on the aspects of teaching or of a course that they can reasonably be expected to know something about. For example, students can be expected to know something about what has and hasn't helped them to learn.
The CATEI questionnaires are based on this understanding. They ask students to provide an approval rating for those aspects of courses and teaching that have been shown by numerous research studies to create an environment that is conducive to student learning.
These aspects include:
- effective communication - the clarity with which ideas, concepts, goals and expectations (including those relating to assessment) are explained and communicated to students
- the capacity to stimulate students' interest in a subject and to foster a desire and willingness to learn
- encouragement of student participation and cooperative learning
- the capacity to facilitate understanding and the development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
- encouragement of independent learning
- provision of high-quality feedback to students.
If student approval of these aspects is high, it indicates that students are comfortable with the learning environment that you've created. But if negative responses outweigh positive ones, something isn't working as well as it could. In this case, you would need to look closely at students' ratings of specific items and seek clues in students' responses to the two open-ended questions that have been included in each questionnaire.
As with other forms of feedback, student perceptions of a course and teaching will lead to improvements in quality only if these perceptions prompt you into reflection and then into action. Reflecting and acting on the basis of student feedback can be difficult and challenging. For example, if students provide negative feedback, a first response is often to look for someone or something to blame - for example, the fact that:
- the class was too large
- the room was inappropriate for small-group teaching or
- the students were less committed and less intelligent than students from previous years.
Equally, when the results of student evaluations are positive, it's easy to become complacent and think that, because the students are obviously satisfied with a course or teaching, nothing needs to change. Neither response is very helpful; either can prevent critical reflection and stifle innovation.
Below are some strategies for dealing with different types of student feedback gained during the CATEI process. The references in the text (e.g. "A1") are to questions on the relevant CATEI form. For example, "A1" refers to Form A (Evaluation of a Course ), Question 1.
- Make sure that, in your course outline, you have stated the aims and Learning Outcomes for the course in language that your students can understand - that is, in terms of what you expect them to know, value and be able to do as a result of studying your course.
- Explain how your course relates to other offerings in your discipline and, if relevant, to professional practice in the field.
- Provide a schedule of topics, learning activities and assessment tasks for your course.
- Explain the learning and teaching strategies that will be used in your course and their rationale.
- Ensure that the assessment requirements for your course are clearly stated and that you have linked your assessment tasks to the learning outcomes for the course.
- Provide students with the criteria that will be used to mark and to grade their work, and show how these criteria relate to the specified learning outcomes.
- Discuss the course outline and assessment requirements with students at your first meeting with them.
- Make explicit the links between lectures, labs and tutorials.
- Consider using a learning management system (LMS), e.g. Blackboard or Moodle, to give students access to your course outline, to obtain practice exams and answers to frequently asked questions and so on.
Similarly, if students indicate that explanations of ideas, concepts and expectations are unclear (B1, C3, D1), you could:
- re-examine the way lectures, tutorials, and labs are structured, and reconsider the amount of material you are attempting to cover in each class
- begin each class with a clear statement of the intended Learning Outcomes for the session
- give students a brief overview of what is to be done or covered in the session and conclude the session with a summary
- use real-life examples and scenarios as well as simulations and role-plays to illustrate key ideas and concepts
- use diagrams and pictures as well as various forms of multimedia to support verbal or written explanations
- check with students to make sure that you are not going too fast and that they can see and hear what is being said
- encourage students to make links between the various concepts and topics that you cover in your course, and to link their learning in your course to what they learn in other courses.
- devising challenging, surprising, amusing or realistic dilemmas and tasks that will engage students' interest and attention
- using an unconventional learning approach such as storytelling (for example, military stories that illustrate the culture of accounting), role-plays, simulations or multimedia
- encouraging students to apply information to real-life situations - that is, integrating theory and practice
- taking learning out of the classroom - for example, organising field trips, a poster competition, a mini-conference or an exhibition of student work
- asking students to keep a reflective journal in which they document critical incidents and other aspects of their learning
- allowing some choice in assessment tasks or topics so that students can focus on what interests them.
Lack of Participation or Cooperation in Class
If students indicate that they have not been encouraged to participate during class (A3, B5, C1, C2) or to work cooperatively with others (D3), you might wish to:
- use Questions to promote discussion and to provoke debate
- provide opportunities for structured Debates
- use guided Brainstorming sessions to introduce or to reflect on a topic
- encourage students to illustrate concepts and to apply theory to practice by coming up with their own examples both individually and in groups
- use Case Studies, Simulations and roleplays as a basis for team and whole-class Discussion and debate
- provide opportunities for students to acquire hands-on experience such as assembling an object or visiting a relevant site
- set assessment tasks that require students to work as a team
- have students keep a log book or journal in which they record issues and ideas and gather relevant examples.
In large classes, you could try:
- interactive quizzes
- buzz groups where two or more students discuss an issue, provide examples or attempt to solve a problem
- asking students to write down one or two questions they have at that point in the lecture or, at the end of the lecture, asking them to write down anything in the lecture they did not understand and would like addressed in the next lecture.
Lack of Deep Understanding, Critical-Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills
If students indicate that they have not gained a deeper understanding of the subject and have not developed critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (A5, B3, C6, D5) or the ability to learn independently (C5), you could try the following:
- stress learning for understanding rather than rote learning - that is, focus on developing students' conceptual understanding of a subject rather than on coverage
- encourage and model an enquiry-based approach to learning
- encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and resist the temptation to spoon-feed them with information
- explain and demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving in your discipline (for example, by modelling the processes and by providing appropriate examples) - do not assume that students will automatically know what these processes mean
- encourage students to make links between concepts and topics - for example, by using concept maps
- encourage students to develop personal understanding and to adopt a reflective approach to learning by using logs and journals
- encourage students to develop and to express their own ideas and opinions
- minimise the testing of factual material in tests and exams
- promote higher-level thinking in the learning experiences and assessment tasks that you design for students by setting open-ended questions or broadly defined problems or tasks that have no right answer
- make self-assessment and peer assessment part of your assessment strategy.
- ask students what kind of feedback they would find most useful - that is, what concerns they would like addressed and how they would like the feedback to be provided
- publish the criteria used for marking students' work, preferably as part of the assignment briefing sheet
- link feedback to the assessment criteria that have been provided and to the stated learning outcomes so that students can see what they have done well and what they need to improve
- incorporate an early assessment task (that is, no later than week 5), which will provide students with feedback to help them further their learning in your course
- provide diverse model answers or examples of good-quality work annotated against the assessment criteria. You might want to ask students to annotate good and weak answers using the criteria. It is also useful to provide annotated answers to all markers so that there is greater reliability and consistency of marking.
- ensure that feedback is provided promptly and in time to be useful
- ensure that feedback is constructive and indicates ways in which the student can improve
- ensure that students get different kinds of feedback - that is, written and oral feedback from the teacher as well as feedback from peers
- invite students to discuss their work with you.
Note: These strategies have been adapted in part from: Armstrong, J. and L. Conrad, Subject Evaluation: A Resource Book for Improving Learning and Teaching, Griffith Institute for Higher Education, Brisbane, 1995.
In some cases (for example, when insufficient information is provided, or when feedback is contradictory), you might also need to obtain more information about student responses. To find out more about what is going well and not so well in a course or with your teaching, you can take several steps. These include:
- talking informally to students and to the student course committee, if there is one, about how the course is progressing
- seeking further feedback from students using structured discussion and focus group sessions
- obtaining feedback from peers through peer observation of teaching or other forms of peer review.
Informal Discussions with Students
Talking informally to students about how the course is progressing is a useful way to obtain input from students during a teaching session. Although such feedback might not be representative, you can act on it very quickly, preventing problems from arising at a later point.
Structured Discussion and Focus Group Sessions
These sessions can provide more detailed and in-depth feedback about teaching or a course. Although resource intensive, they are particularly useful when you want to explore a particular issue or issues, and when you are attempting to understand why students have indicated that they are dissatisfied. They must be effectively facilitated, however. To maintain neutrality, it is usually better if the facilitator is not the class teacher.
Peer Observation of Teaching
You can obtain useful insights into teaching practices by having your teaching observed by peers who are colleagues from the same or a different school or from a university support service such as the Learning & Teaching Unit. Such observation is never neutral, however, and works best as a learning experience if the focus is on understanding rather than judging. The feedback should be constructive and serve as a basis for critical self-reflection and dialogue.
Other Forms of Peer Review
Peer review does not always have to involve direct observation of a colleague's teaching. An alternative model is one in which the peer acts as your critical friend in a dialogue that is part of a collaborative learning process. To be effective, this process needs to have a clear focus (for example, a review of course materials, assessment tasks and procedures, or approaches to teaching) and be aimed at promoting critical reflection on what has been learned, and on what action will be taken, as a result of the peer review process. It's a good idea to record the learning that takes place as part of the peer review process and to retain a summary of the outcomes. You can then use this documentation as evidence of professional development in your teaching portfolio.
When students are not informed of the outcomes of evaluation, they often feel that their feedback is not treated seriously. This can affect their attitude to subsequent evaluations. It is important, therefore, that you close the feedback loop by communicating to students the actions that have been taken as a result of the feedback they have provided. Ideally, this should be a two-way process that encourages students to engage constructively with staff to enhance understanding of such feedback and of the actions that have been taken to facilitate improvement.
You can use a range of methods and media to communicate the outcomes of evaluation to students. These will vary according to the context, but they could include face-to-face discussions or print-based and electronic-based materials. It is also likely that Faculties will establish their own protocols and processes for communicating the outcomes of evaluation to students.
Where can I obtain copies of the CATEI Summary Report - Course Evaluation form (Course Coordinator to Head of School/Program)?
The CATEI Summary Report form can be downloaded as a PDF or Word document.
Who is my first point of contact for enquiries about the CATEI process?
Direct your enquiries to the CATEI coordinator in your School or Faculty. If there is no designated CATEI coordinator in your School, ask your Faculty CATEI coordinator. Direct queries about data or your CATEI results to the Institutional Analysis and Reporting Office (IARO)
What role does the Learning and Teaching Unit play in the CATEI process?
While CATEI is coordinated through IARO, the Learning and Teaching Unit performs three main roles in the CATEI process:
- Assist staff with interpreting CATEI data
- Offer strategies to adopt in response to student feedback, and
- Provide additional resources and references to complement the CATEI process.
Feedback on the CATEI process can be emailed to email@example.com