Quality control

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May 18: This is the last week of my course at UniversityCollege. Since early February I have been sharing my knowledge ofDutch Society in the Seventeenth Century (in UC code: HUM 211) withone American, one Canadian, and four Dutch students. Today I amfeeling slightly apprehensive, because my course is up forevaluation. The students are to fill out forms prepared by, andanonymously returned to IVLOS, to give their verdict on myperformance as a teacher. They try to comfort me, and tell me thattheir regular attendance should be an indication of their highopinions. They also tell me that next year I'll have more students.Nonetheless, the results will be made public, and as chairman ofthe Board of Studies I cannot afford to cut a dismal figure.

May 20: Now it's the students' turn to be nervous. Today istheir final exam. Last week, I handed out a long list of questionsto help them prepare for the exam, as the program does not provideany serious preparation time. I noticed them getting together todiscuss possible answers. Moreover, seventy per cent of their gradeis already in, thanks to two papers, a review and a classpresentation. So they all know more or less where they are, interms of grading. However, they also know their grades will bediscussed among their peers and, like myself, they don't want tocut a bad figure either.

May 24: What does all of this mean against the background ofDutch academic life? For one, University College is a hugeexperiment, and one aspect of that experiment is across-the-board,public evaluation of the performance of teachers and studentsalike. This evaluation now strikes me as even more important than Ihad expected. Throughout the course I have been monitoring thestudents' performance. I have informed them of their progress (orlack of it), and provided suggestions on how they mightimprove.

The fifteen weeks of the semester have provided sufficientopportunity to redress mistakes. At the same time, students haveindicated when they thought I was going off the track. That wassobering, but also very helpful. I have been more conscious of myown teaching than ever before. In fact, it seems to me, everyonehas become much more reflective about their own performance.Evaluation, in other words, has not been a corrective after thefact, a control measure. Instead, it has acted as a means toimprove quality all along, during the process of teaching andlearning. In the meantime, however, the jury on my course is stillout.

Maarten Prak, Chairman Board ofStudies