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A More Effective Evaluation Method For Higher Education

Central to a more effective evaluation method for higher education faculty is a centralized and amalgamated curriculum overseen by a central bureau. Photo by Jon Smith.

I am an Assistant Professor at a small regional university in West Georgia. I accepted this position because I enjoy teaching as well as research and I thought I would get a nice balance of these two activities in a small university.

The last two and half years of my professional life has raised several questions regarding the evaluation of an academic institutions and the role it plays in shaping career paths of students. The American education system is renowned for its flexibility and “academic freedom”. But to me it seems there is a downside to this academic freedom aspect of education.

There is no common curriculum for a specific discipline that is followed by undergraduate and graduate institutions in the United States. For example, there is a discrepancy in course content presented in class by two individual professors teaching at two different institutions or, sometimes, who are in the same department the same course. Additionally, the mechanism of evaluation of instructors in American universities plays an important role further amplifying the discrepancy in academic standards across disciplines.

A very common practice in universities is to evaluate an instructor based on their students’ evaluations. Some schools also have teaching evaluations performed by peers in the department. Both types of evaluations are very useful but there could be a bias involved in the evaluation process. Some instructors will make their course as easy as possible and minimize challenging the students intellectually to maintain good teaching evaluations in their “teaching record”. Ironically, this can have a negative impact on teaching evaluations of effective instructors who try to emphasize critical thinking and challenging their students to “think outside the box”.

There is no external evaluation of teaching by an external accreditation board in the U.S. I think that there should be an anonymous, external annual evaluation done by members of an external board. Further, this evaluation should be done without making the instructor aware of the specific date or time of the evaluations. The instructor can be given a broad time range (e.g., the semester of the academic calendar year). This external teaching evaluation should complement student evaluations and will help to minimize the discrepancy of academic standards in a discipline.

Currently there is no common national accreditation board for academic evaluation. Most universities have their internal discipline-specific exams and methods to evaluate the outcomes of learning and they use these data to evaluate their programs and present it to the regional accreditation commission. I think the U.S. higher education system should have a common curriculum for all courses taught that should be followed by all institutions in the country, like they have in Europe or some Asian countries.

It’s important to note that there are different types of academic institutions in the U.S.—some big research schools, others are mid-sized to small liberal Arts and Science Colleges. It is difficult to judge all the different types of institutions by a common standard. As the infrastructure and resources of different universities are not similar, we can categorize institutions as big, medium and small schools and design curriculum for disciplines according to the sizes and infrastructures of universities.

The curriculum should clearly state how the learning outcomes are met and how it would be useful in shaping career path of a student in that specific discipline. This designing of curriculum should be done by an external (private/government board) whose members should not be only educators but also prospective employers in the area of discipline.

It would also be useful to have a common external exam, specific to the type of institution to evaluate the learning outcomes in a specific subject taught in a university. This exam can be conducted by the external accreditation board, based on the common curriculum. The university would also have to maintain a database of students that keeps track of career paths of graduating students after their graduation. The evaluation should not only take into account exam scores but also use this database to assess how the respective program has affected career paths of the students.

This strategy can not only be employed for a common evaluation system for similar sized universities in the country but also will reveal if the programs in the universities are effective in shaping career paths of students.

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