Skip to Content

Course Assessment

Course Assessment vs. Course Requirements

Course Assessment

Course Assessment is defined on the CARF as follows: In addition to using grades and end of term evaluations, how will the department assess the success of the course in meeting its specific goals and objectives? While student evaluations mostly evaluate the instructor, the college urges faculty to have a plan as to how they and the department will evaluate the course itself.

To promote curricular success, it is helpful for faculty members to identify specific goals and expectations for the course, methods of measuring student progress, and grading procedures and standards. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) provides faculty and graduate student instructors with valuable resources found. Conducting their own midterm evaluations elicits valuable information when feasible adjustments can be made while the course is underway. Open-ended questions on the end-of-semester course evaluations also ask students to reflect on how well the course met its stated goals. Using a pre-test and post-test gathers hard data as to how well students have learned.

Course Requirements

This field is asking how the instructor plans to evaluate student performance in the course, i.e. the basis for grading. Examples include required reading and writing assignments, term papers, exams, and projects and/or group presentations. In addition to a syllabus, the CC wants a NEW CARF to include details, i.e. the minimum length of papers, the type of exams, descriptions of projects. Even though assignments change over time, the college wants faculty to have a general plan for grading before offering the course, for example:

Mid-term exam 25% (combination of short questions and short essays); final paper 40% (20 pages); and weekly homework assignments 35% (examples in syllabus).

The Role of Writing in Course Proposals encourage faculty to consider various ways in which they can incorporate writing into their course, which depends on subject, course level, and academic discipline. The committee is especially concerned about how writing is utilized as a teaching tool in distribution courses and chose to state the principles rather than specific numbers about papers and pages.

Sample Course Assessment Plans


ASIAN 369.  Chinese Film

Instructor will use weekly assignments to gauge the student's progress in the course and comprehension of materials. In addition, the instructor will make use of instructional technology (e.g., Lecture Tools or Clickers) to evaluate the effectiveness of lectures. Instructional technology now allows instructors to gauge the students' difficulty with material and lecture slides, as well as to evaluate their level of engagement with materials.

ENGLISH 329 / ENVIRON 329.  Environmental Writing and Great Lakes Literature

In addition to student evaluations, the success of ENGLISH 329/ENVIRON 329 will be assessed by a mid-term exam and an end-of-term discussion of course goals, content and structure. By the conclusion of the course, students should be able to discuss the connections between the natural world in which they conduct research, the assigned novels and their own writing. The students' writing progress will be observed during the term, and each of the writing assignments will be compared to each earlier writing samples to assess the development of students' creative and analytical skills.

HISTART 348.  Representing Fashion: Costume and Dress in the Visual Arts

Course objectives:  1) encourage students to think critically about fashion as a culturally and historically relative concept; and 2) teach students how to analyze images, objects, and texts as distinct forms of representation and carriers of information. I will get an idea from early on in the course of whether students can analyze readings critically from their reading response papers. Progress of student understanding and engagement with key ideas will be assessed regularly during in-class discussions. The first short paper comes early in the term (due the 4th week) to enable me to assess student skills in the key area of analyzing images in relation to texts. The mid-term examination will also give me a sense of how students are assimilating the material and allow time for adjustments during the second half of the course. After the term is over I will meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and chair to discuss the syllabus, student evaluations, and plans for improvement.

POLISH 215.  Heart of Europe: Poland Today

The course objectives can be measured via short and long papers as well as the final exam. More importantly, they can be assessed during discussion meetings when students will have opportunities to demonstrate their progress in comprehension and exposition of their ideas about course material. A mid-term and end of the term survey of students’ satisfaction with the course and suggestions for adjustments to material selection and presentation should allow us to measure students’ response to course material and instruction.


GERMAN 378.  History of German Science

Gaging the ultimate success of a course with such broad pedagogical aims is largely dependent on individual student feedback. Informal feedback is solicited via a midterm evaluation, formal feedback via grades and end-of-term evaluations. Students are encouraged to attend office hours in order to discuss their objectives and progress. Early in the semester, the class appoints a Klassensprecher (class representative) to facilitate communication between the students and instructor and among the students themselves. Because of its voluntary character, the use of a class blog is another effective means of monitoring: a) the extent of the students’ substantive learning; b) their level of interest and enthusiasm; and c) their degree of communicative exchange and collaboration.


ANTHRBIO 363.  Genes, Disease, and Culture

Faculty will have the opportunity to sit in on classes during the course of the semester to assess the course style, course content, and learning environment. We will then have the opportunity to discuss this course and its objectives during our sub-field faculty meeting to ensure that it is meeting its specific goals and objectives.

BIOLOGY 444.  Life: Decoded--Genomics in Society

Students will complete a short survey after the first class, which will help assess their current knowledge of basic biological principles. They will write an essay based on a short video at the first class and again at the end, which will help evaluate the course's contribution to their knowledge of basic principles and ethical implications in the field. Instructor will work with CRLT to have an in-class anonymous feedback during the first weeks/months of class to help improve teaching effectiveness.

EARTH 159.  Toward a Sustainable Human Future

The success of this course will be based on the instructor’s evaluation of the students’ ability to examine, critically analyze and summarize a sustainability topic, and on written evaluations of other class projects (anonymous to classmates, known to instructor). Specific mid-term and end-of-term student evaluations will be used to assess the impact of the course material on learning and development of critical thinking, particularly in the realm of sustainability science.

MCDB 351.  Synapses

To assess students' specific goals and level of enthusiasm, a survey will be given at the beginning and end of the course (in addition to E&E evaluations). Adjustments will be made to the content/approach wherever practicable. To assess course learning outcomes, GSIs will observe every student individually and call instructor attention to those who are struggling. GSIs will provide feedback to faculty about material or approaches that students found difficult, allowing instructors to reconcile learning goals with actual outcomes. Three exams will be given during the semester in an open-ended (essay) format giving the grader clear indication of student comprehension of topics. Instructors will return to poorly grasped concepts with a different approach. A fourth exam at the end of the course will provide additional feedback to the instructor for the next time the course is offered.


HISTORY 104.  Introduction to History in the Social Sciences

From the perspective of individual students, we will define success in terms of the specific knowledge they have gained (which will vary widely in each iteration of the class) and their understanding of the discipline of history. Faculty who teach this class will be asked to formulate a set of objectives that articulate their understanding of history and explain how they will convey that message to first-year students. They will be asked to report to History's Undergraduate Committee at the end of the term on their success as measured by student performance on assignments and exams, in discussion sections, and in course evaluations. The goal is not popularity for its own sake, but accessibility as a means to show students what professional historians really do. 

ORGSTUDY 201.  Leadership and Collaboration

In addition to using grades and end of term evaluations to assess the success of this new course, the department will incorporate relevant information from advising appointment discussions and exit surveys completed by matriculating concentrators to determine the worth of the course as a gateway to the curricula of the Organizational Studies Program. If this class is approved to be part of the new Sophomore Experience initiative being developed by the Associate Dean of undergraduate education, additional evaluation mechanisms will be developed in consultation with the Dean’s office.

POLSCI 309.  Theoretical Perspectives on Environmental Change

Assessment will include student feedback surveys during the term and follow-up statistical queries to determine if students in this course go on to take other intermediate-level classes in the history of political thought or participate in upper-level seminars in political theory and political science.


Faculty instructors will work in consultation with GSIs to assess student learning. It will be measured through weekly-response papers, the writing exercises and midterm essay, the final examination, and class participation in small-group discussion sections, overseen by GSIs. In addition, faculty instructors will continue working with CRLT on the design of the course, pedagogical issues, implementation,

POLSCI 101: Innovative Teaching Tools

A collection of materials by CRLT on the evaluation of teaching effectiveness prompted Mika Lavaque-Manty in Political Science to add a completely new interactive teaching component to his large introductory class.

  1. A comprehensive survey on student expectations, background, learning and studying styles once before the term began and right after. The post-survey also included questions on what the students thought they had learned. 
  2. Weekly electronic survey of how they had understood the material and how difficult they felt the readings were.  
  3. A midterm student feedback visit conducted by a CRLT consultant. 
  4. A comparison of grades across all iterations of my course.

POLSCI 101: Introduction to Political Theory

Assoc. Prof. Mika Lavaque-Manty    Fall 2001

This course serves as an introduction to political theory, one of the subfields of political science. Political theory traditionally focuses on questions of how to manage our lives together. It concerns itself with questions of how we should live, as individuals and communities, what counts as valuable human life, what justice is, what just and fair institutions look like, and how to deal with the problems human communities face.

This course is organized around a set of problems we face. Who that “we” is is one of the questions we’ll pay attention to. But it certainly includes the students in this course, who will have a say in our choice of themes. This is why you don’t see any readings in the course calendar yet. They will depend on which themes we choose. We’ll tackle four themes during the semester. Each theme will include readings from so-called canonical political theory, which means key texts in Western political thought, beginning in the Greek antiquity and reaching the twenty-first century. But there will be other texts, to supplement the canon and its academic and Western focus.

Much of what we’ll do in this course is unconventional, whether you compare it to your high school experience or other courses in college. It will reward initiative, flexibility, and collaboration.

Learning Objectives

The following objectives are in an increasing order of importance. That is, the second one is more important than the first one, and so on.

  1. Be familiar with the texts we have read and the kinds of arguments you have encountered during the course.
  2. Have an understanding of what political theory is and have at least a general comprehension of major concepts and ideas in political theory (e.g., you should know what a social contract is, you know the different meanings of “liberalism” and “conservatism,” you should understand the collective action problem).
  3. Be able to read other similar texts and analyze other political arguments. In other words, you should be able to engage in inquiry into political arguments.
  4. Be able to make your own arguments, and express those arguments verbally, in writing, and using other “new” media.
  5. Be able to solve problems, both intellectual and social, using the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired in this course in conjunction with other skills and knowledge you might have from elsewhere. This includes being able to collaborate with others.  
  6. Be familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, and be able to adjust your approaches to learning.

Notice that the last point has nothing to do with political theory, or even political science. It has a lot to do with succeeding in college, and -- you might not know this yet -- it has everything to do about succeeding in life, whatever you end up doing.


You’ll want to know what all this means in terms of grades. It’s relatively basic: Put in the effort and go through the motions, and you’ll be guaranteed a B range grade. Put in the effort, focus on your learning, try hard on improving your skills, and you’re in the running for an A range grade. Do less, and you quickly risk a low grade. Note one important principle: some things do not get graded, but they are necessary, anyway. For example, if you do not complete the syllabus review survey, you cannot do any further work in the course, or if you do not complete the midterm self-evaluation, you will not have access to assignments in the second half of the semester. Below is how the different graded components in the course will count toward your final course grade.

Multiple Choice

by Kaustuv Basu

The players have a set of choices as they go about achieving their objectives. They could choose to go down different paths, and build confidence along the way.

This description could be used to describe players in an online role-playing game, or students in Mika LaVaque-Manty’s Introduction to Political Theory class at the University of Michigan.

LaVaque-Manty, an associate professor of political science, is letting students choose the kinds of assignments – be it posting on a class blog or commenting on blog posts, a group project or a conventional essay – on which they want to be graded for 60 percent of their grades. Students not only choose two of three optional components, they also decide on how these components will be weighted. For example, a student could assign 40 percent of the grade to blogging and 20 percent to a group project.

The rest of the grade is made up of what LaVaque-Manty calls “going through the motions” – attendance, participation in class discussions and keeping up with reading material. 

Professors are constantly griping about grading, and some (like LaVaque-Manty) propose creative alternatives to traditional grading. About three years ago, Cathy Davidson, a Duke University professor of English, attracted nationwide attention from educators after she proposed a grading plan based on a points system -- students could do a certain amount of work for the class and aim for an A, or they could do less and aim for a B. Other students in the class would determine if the work was being to satisfaction. LaVaque-Manty's approach, like Davidson's, gives students much more control than is the norm. But he remains the grader.

Some experts call his approach an example of  “gamification”: use of game-like elements to increase student motivation or engagement.

"It is the use of game mechanics to make courses more engaging,” said Matt Kaplan, managing director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan. “Students will have to think, ‘How do I learn in this class, or where should I spend my effort?’ And they have to do it very carefully,” he said. Since the course is self-regulated, students have to take responsibility in building the coursework. And they have to have explicit goals early on and then take steps to achieve those goals.

According to a paper on “Gamification in Education” by Joey Lee and Jessica Hammer of Teachers College, Columbia University, the use of these elements in classrooms can not only excite and motivate students, but also provide teachers a way to help and reward students. “It can show them the ways that education can be a joyful experience, and the blurring of boundaries between informal and formal learning can inspire students to learn in life-wide, lifelong, and life-deep ways,” the authors wrote.

On the flip side, Lee and Hammer  caution that “gamification” can be a drain on teacher resources. And just structuring a course like a game might not make it a game. “By making play mandatory, gamification might create rule-bases experiences that feel just like school,” the authors said. “Instead of chocolate and peanut butter, such projects are more like chocolate-covered broccoli.”

LaVaque-Manty, who is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor  -- an award given to faculty members for outstanding contribution to undergraduate education -- tried this grading system last fall. Buoyed by what he sees as increased student engagement, he will continue with it when he offers the political theory class again this fall. The professor, who has been at the University of Michigan since 2001, said his goal is to increase student autonomy and get them thinking about the learning process. “I am trying to get them to exercise their own judgment,” he said. “At worst it is an intriguing idea; at best it is cool.”

The idea developed, LaVaque-Manty said, as he talked with graduate students and played around with ideas the last few years.  “More people liked it than not,” he said. “Whether students seem to like the grading scheme or not seemed to be the best predictor of how they would do in the class. How you grade can motivate students.”

Two hundred ninety-seven students took the introductory political theory class last fall, of which 55 percent were sophomores and the rest were freshmen. Some of the freshmen struggled with the idea of choosing their own grading components. “They are fresh out of high school, where they are used to being given marching orders. Suddenly they can choose and they are wondering how to do it,” LaVaque-Manty said. As a result, for the class that will be offered this fall, students who do not choose the grading components will be given a default allocation.

Students did well in the assignments they weighted heavily, but they did not seem to make a major commitment to those to which they did not give a lot of weight. The average grade in the class, which used to be B to B-plus, is now closer to A-minus, LaVaque-Manty said. And though there is no compelling evidence showing that the students learned more, the professor said that students told him that they learned more because of the way the class was structured.

Steve Dougherty, a student in the class last fall, said he liked the class because “it allowed me to focus on the assignments I felt passionate about, could learn from, and on which I could do well.” Another student, Madeline Dunn, who nominated the professor for a provost's teaching innovation prize, said: "This class pushed me to perform at the best of my abilities. I knew that at the end of the year I could not blame a poor grade on my learning styles clashing with the teacher, or any other excuse, for that matter."

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Student Ratings and Student Learning

The Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG; available at was designed specifically to collect students’ feedback on their perceptions of what and how much they learned in a given course. SALG was developed as a way of studying the impact of innovations in chemistry courses, and is now used by close to 900 faculty instructors across the country. Unlike most ratings systems that remain proprietary, SALG is publicly accessible, and the developers encourage faculty to experiment with and adapt it to suit their needs. SALG focuses on student perceptions of how much they have learned in a variety of domains (e.g., class content, skills, attitudes) and which aspects of their courses (resources, class activities, assignments, etc.) contributed to their learning. Below are some sample questions from the section on understanding class content. Attached are sample forms from courses in three disciplines (chemistry, psychology and English) and some basic explanatory material from SALG.

As a result of your work in this class, what GAINS DID YOU MAKE in your UNDERSTANDING OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING?

no gains

a little gain

moderate gain

good gain

great gain


  •  The main concepts explored in class







  •  The relationship between main concepts







  •  How ideas from this class relate to ideas encountered in other classes within this subject area







  •  How ideas from this class relate to ideas encountered in other classes outside of this subject area







  •  How studying this subject area helps people address real world issues









Course Evaluation Tools

Criteria and Questions for Assessing a Course Portfolio


  • Does the content appear to be appropriate and relevant?
  • Is the content appropriately sequenced and paced?


  • Are the course goals and objectives clearly stated?
  • Are student assignments well-defined?
  • Are grading standards and performance expectations well-defined?


  • Are texts and other sources appropriate for the course?
  • Does the reading list reflect careful selection of sources?
  • Are reading requirements appropriate?


  • Do assignments promote critical thought and analysis?
  • Are assignments clear and well thought-out?
  • Do assignments promote course objectives?


  • Do course materials suggest creativity and flexibility?
  • Are assignments and projects varied, and can they be tailored to individual students’ interests when appropriate?
  • Have teaching materials, such as handouts, study guides, and instructional media been produced? What is their quality?

Suggested Protocol for Classroom Observations

It is recommended that the observer meet with or have an e-mail exchange with the instructor prior to the classroom observation to discuss goals for the class and give context to the class being observed. The observer and instructor also should meet as soon as possible following the observation. (See recommended questions below.)

Recommended questions for pre-observation conference:

  • What will be happening in the class that I will observe?
  • What is your goal for this class? What do you hope students will gain from this session?
  • What do you expect students to do in the class to reach these goals?
  • What can I expect you to do in class? What role will you take? What teaching methods will you use?
  • What have students been asked to do to prepare for class?
  • What was done in earlier classes to lead up to this one?
  • Will this class be typical of your teaching? If not, what will be different?
  • Is there anything specific on which you would like me to focus during the class?

Recommended questions for post-observation conference:

  • In general, how do you think the class went?
  • Did students accomplish the goals you had planned for class?
  • Is there anything that worked well for you in class today— that you particularly liked?
  • Is there anything that did not work well— that you disliked? Is this typically a problem for you?
  • What were your teaching strengths? Did you notice anything you improved or any personal goals you met?
  • What were your teaching problems?—areas that still need improvement?
  • If you could change anything about the class in retrospect, what would you change and how?
  • Do you have any suggestions or strategies for improvement?

Classroom Observation Form

Provide a detailed description for each of the following:

  1. Describe the method(s) of instruction.


  1. Describe the form and extent of student participation, as well as the apparent level of student engagement with the material.


  1. Describe the instructor’s stated goals for the class and how these relate to the goals of the course.


  1. Describe the instructor’s role in the progression of the class.


  1. To what extent were the goals of the class met?


  1. To what extent did the instructor provide an overview of the class objectives and/or transitions between topics?


  1. How clear, well-organized, and appropriate were the explanations and/or activities?


  1. Describe the types of questions the instructor employed during the class.


  1. What specific suggestions would you make to improve this instructor’s teaching?