Course Refinement

Refining a Course

While designing a course, lecturing, or marking, etc., you may come across something that is not working as it should, or an idea you want to explore. Your students are in the best position to tell you what is and isn’t working for them, but how do you solicit honest feedback without arousing students concerns over their feedback? Here is a low-risk method which works very well.

Essentially, the course instructor, the students in a particular course, and a third party come together early in the term with the intention of modifying one particular course.

The Course Refinement Process

  1. An instructor indicates they would like a particular course reviewed. The CLL has experience with this process, or you may prefer to ask a colleague.

    At the instructor’s invitation we discuss the goals of the course and anticipate the problems students may experience in doing the course (about 1 hour).
  2. We attend the class and ask the students, by means of small groups, to arrive at a consensus on three questions.
    a) What is working?
    b) What is not working?
    c) What specific changes would improve the effectiveness of the course? (20 minutes class time)
  3. We convey the information to the instructor (about 1 hour).
  4. The instructor responds by either:
    a) explaining to students why certain changes cannot be made; or
    b) stating plans and then acting on suggested changes (about 10 minutes class time).

Advantages of this Approach

This structured discussion approach has distinct advantages over a questionnaire:

  • Vague student comments can be probed to provide more useful information to the instructor (e.g., the textbook is useless vs. the textbook explanations are too complicated).
  • Students' discussions tend to filter out individual comments leading to a clearer group consensus.
  • Within a class, students often disagree with each other about key elements of the course. The refining a course approach makes this variation of opinion public and helps to correct notions such as “everyone hates the textbook."
  • Course Evaluations done at the end of term are not taken as seriously by students for as some students say “nothing ever changes”. Students see a benefit to Refining a Course because they can see changes implemented right away in response to their feedback.