The QAA (2001) Subject Review Handbook requires observers to summarise each session’s ‘overall quality in relation to the learning objectives’ and to evaluate the processes of a seminar according to: clarity of objectives; planning and organisation; methods/approach; delivery and pace; content (currency, accuracy, relevance, use of examples, level, match to student needs); student participation; and use of accommodation and learning resources. This provides a starting point for a review of the criteria that might be used in self-evaluation. Given the discussion in section 2, objectives should be clear in terms of the description of what students will know, understand or be able to do. Objectives that are written in terms of the content that will be covered are not compatible with an intention to encourage ‘deep learning’. Examples of objectives that might encourage deep learning include:
The criterion ‘clarity of objectives’ is ambiguous with regard to ‘clarity to whom?’ – the seminar leader, an academic peer, the students? The implication from section 2 is that objectives should be clear to students and, to that end, it is a good idea to state objectives explicitly at the beginning of the session. It is often useful to give a short explanation of the format of the seminar and how that format is expected to help students’ learning. This practice should help students to understand the purpose of the activity and should increase their ability to participate effectively. It should also help students to draw together the different aspects of the session and this, in turn, should promote greater understanding.
Other criteria in the QAA list (planning, organisation and methods, and student participation) might be judged according to the nature and variety of activity for students. Does the organisation of the seminar provide appropriate stimulus to students’ thinking and does it provide sufficient space for them to develop their ideas? Does it allow the seminar leader to meet the needs of students who are working at different levels of understanding? Does it allow for different modes of student participation? In evaluating student participation, it is useful to bear in mind the discussion of learning styles in section 2. The willingness of students to participate will depend on the match between the style of activity and their ‘preferred learning style’. The degree of students’ participation can be evaluated only alongside the opportunities that have been provided for different types of participation.