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EVALUATION VS CONTROL IN ACADEMIC COURSES

M. Maiocchi, M. Pillan

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
The evaluation of the performances of the students at the end of an academic course (but not only) presents many different aspects and needs: measurement, fairness, transparency, evaluation shared with students, uniformity among teachers.
In fact, asked about what is evaluated along the courses, nobody, neither teachers nor students, is able to give sound clear and sharable definitions. This is not by chance, but, according to the authors though, it is due to a misunderstanding on the meaning and the role of the evaluation.
The paper will present the interpretation of the evaluation of the authors and their experience at Politecnico di Milano, including the used techniques and the practical results, also in respect to the psychological relationships with the students. In particular, the paper will present:

- The evaluation as a control system (and not as a measurement system): marks, both along and at the end of the course should be used as a way for ruling the process, and for improving feedbacks able to make the system teacher-students evolve toward a desired status; students should be aware about this role of the evaluation.

- The technical aspects of the evaluation: in order to be able to rule the behavior of the students and then the learning results, it is important to split the manifold aspects of the evaluation, to be then evaluated separately; for example, an evaluation could be split into “content”, “method”, “originality”, “deepness”, “presentation”, etc; this supposes that the evaluation is organized through some kind of task to be performed by students (small projects, exercises, written answers to open questions, etc); the evaluation of each aspect separately, on a small scale (strongly weak to excellent) is easy and easy to be understood and agreed by students;

- Self-adjustment techniques, able to guarantee independence from teacher and content: provided that a classroom size is representative of a community, we can assume that among the students some excellence will be present; so, after the integration of the single figures composing the various aspects of the evaluation, the final scores are mapped onto proper curves guaranteeing a typical scores distribution; this allow to correct possible bias due to personal characteristics of the single course (too easy, too hard, etc.);

- Reactions by the students: students require usually to be measured; the explanation of the evaluation process is not sufficient, and a debate with them is usually pushed; the result is not simply the awareness of the evaluation process, but also a different interpretation of the education process: not for reaching a score, but for reaching proper learning levels;

- Experiences: the described approach has been experienced since over ten years, spread among many courses (monographic ex cathedra, laboratorial, workshops, etc), ranging from about 30-40 students till over 200 students, and has been extended to the collective evaluation of the final graduation artifact. Real examples (also with figures) will be presented.
The paper completes the frame with some critical remarks about the application of the proposed techniques in respect to the classroom size and about the way for having measures for a more neutral ranking on the global quality of the graduation courses.