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Self-evaluating and Archiving Courses

Folders

With the semester almost over at my university, spring is drawing to a close. The nearness of the last day is always marked by the arrival of envelopes filled with course evaluation forms awaiting distribution. Student course evaluations have been the subject of a number of ProfHacker discussions. I’ve always found course evaluation time to be one of the strangest moments of the semester, as I wait out in the hallway while my students fill out their forms. Brian Croxall shared some great tips for getting the most out of student evaluations—one I’ve always tried to follow is giving evaluations well before the end of class.

For those of us on 9.5 month contracts, or for adjuncts and instructors left out of the loop entirely, the end of semester can be jarring. One more division meeting, perhaps a graduation ceremony or two, and the next set of summer responsibilities take over. There’s no formal time scheduled for collective reflection, and it can be easy to let a class fade out of memory long before an opportunity rises to teach it again.

Once student evaluations are returned, they can be valuable resources for planning the next iteration of a course. Mark Sample observed the sometimes distant utility of such evaluations when considering  the best time to read course evaluations. But while student evaluations can be helpful, they don’t often tell the whole story when revisited.

Thus, rather than let student evaluations stand as my primary resource, I’ve started a habit of completing my own self-evaluation to accompany theirs in my own records. This year I’ve started my process for this spring by creating a folder for every course I’ve taught, using Dropbox as my archive tool of choice. Within each course folder, I create new sections for each semester I’ve offered the class, and store all the materials from it in that folder.

During the semester, I often lose control of my organization. While the main outline of the course stays on my class blog, the rest of the files are scattered through the download folder and trail across the desktop. Tracking these down can be its own challenge, but it’s also a great time to start my own “course evaluation.” Rather than just dumping files into their new home, I open a text file and jot down each major assignment, reading, or exercise I’m adding to the archive along with my thoughts about its success or failure. Spring’s records and reflections will join my notes for fall, and I’ll revisit them alongside student evaluations and the archived class materials when I next plan the course.

There is a lot to be gained from making course materials and reflections on methods public, and previous ProfHacker posts have certainly been drawn from such lessons. However, I find it is easiest to be critical of a problem assignment in a text file meant only for my own future planning. While much of our record-keeping is centered on success, as the requirements of promotion and tenure or other review processes encourage, a personal archive of failed experiments can be just as (if not more) valuable.

What are your strategies for winding up a course reflectively? Do you maintain an archive, blog or tweet, or keep a personal journal? Share your methods and reflections in the comments!

[Creative Commons Licensed Photo by Flickr User M.M. Sand]

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