Section 2.4 Focus and Content of SET

Section 2.4 Focus and Content of SET

Section 2.4 Focus and Content of SET

The motivation for conducting SET will be the most influential factor in the evaluation’s focus, structure, method, timing, results, and consequences.

As detailed in Section 3 feedback can largely be categorised as being used for formative or for summative purposes. Based on terms from Black & Wiliam’s (1998) work in assessment an awareness of the distinction has been identified as ‘crucial’ to improving teaching (Laverie, 2002).

Formative SET refers to feedback gathered for its originally intended purpose of improving teaching and learning or some aspect of the module or course, while summative SET uses feedback for more administrative reasons, such as quality assurance or personnel/resource decisions. An overview of this distinction is provided below:

2.4 (a) Focus and content of SET.jpg

2.4 (b) Focus and content of SET.jpg

In summative SET there’s often a focus on the teacher or their performance rather than course content and what the students actually do. Edström (2008) provides a good insight into the different potential foci for SET, for example teaching focused (teacher or process) or learner focused (process or outcomes) and the interplay between these factors. This is discussed in more detail in Section 4 (How to do it).

The difficulty with SET, particularly summative SET, is that to rate teaching quality, it is first necessary to define what is meant by “good” teaching. In recent years definitions have tended to focus on actively engaging and facilitating student learning as opposed to the more traditional didactic “chalk and talk” transmission of information (Biggs, 2003; Ramsden, 2002; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). However, teaching, by its nature, is a subjective process, and approaches that may be suitable or successful in one discipline may not transfer to another.

Edström (2008) reports that there is general consensus that teaching is a multidimensional construct and cites the following dimensions proposed by Cashin (1989) and Marsh (1984):

2.4 the focus and content of SET.jpg

The issues of measuring ‘good teaching’ and single-item indicators to measure multi-dimensional concepts are further developed in Section 8.

Activity 2.4

Before continuing to Section 4 take a moment to reflect on and identify what you think formative evaluations should focus on (e.g., teaching or learning) and, accordingly, what you think they should include.

Consider returning to this activity after exploring Section 4 to determine whether your attitudes and ideas have changed in any way.

Submit your answers


Edström, K. (2008). Doing course evaluation as if learning matters most. Higher Education Research & Development, 27(2), 95–106.

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