Evaluating Student Learning Gain: An Alternative Perspective
Evaluating the learning gain of students is a Teaching Excellence Framework metric. Current proposals include the collection of data from existing national sources such as Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) and the National Student Survey (NSS). However, this data collection is remote from the actual teaching on individual courses and units, and considers only a single amalgamated perspective of a student’s experience as a learner. Whilst such an approach may provide an overview of learning achieved, it cannot hope to encapsulate either good teaching practice deserving recognition, or poor teaching practice requiring concentrated support.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) investigation into learning gain has considered a selection of more focussed models that target individual students and courses. As a result, there is an improved chance of these models reflecting actual learning gain, and producing data which is pertinent and meaningful.
HEFCE defines learning gain as representing the distance travelled by a student in terms of skills, competencies, knowledge and development. Our research study proposes a novel alternative perspective, i.e. that learning gain is in fact a two-dimensional paradigm including both the distance travelled, and also the journey travelled, by a student. More than simple semantics, distance travelled represents the explicit knowledge gained by a student learner in terms of models and theories, and journey travelled represents learning with respect to tacit understanding and experience. Both are essential elements of a student’s learning, yet they need different stimuli to occur, and students often find one easier to assimilate than the other. Based upon the philosophical position of interpretivism, a mono-method qualitative research study, with a cross-sectional time horizon, was undertaken at Bournemouth University, in the form of a small-scale pilot, to further investigate this concept. A non-probability homogeneous sampling technique was applied across a cohort of Level 6 undergraduate students undertaking their final year research dissertations. Students were asked to report, via a self-certification survey, how they felt their own personal learning and understanding had changed against carefully constructed questions. Questions used a balance between distance travelled, and journey travelled, taking into account intended learning outcomes and higher order thinking skills.
Initial results yielded promising data for course review purposes, and provided a potential model for evaluating student learning. Further development work is now being undertaken with a larger scale test group of students. This poster describes this survey process and is illustrated with example findings.