Assess teaching

Document analysis


Document analysis is the systematic examination of instructional documents such as syllabi, assignments, lecture notes, and course evaluation results in order to identify instructional needs and challenges and describe an instructional activity. The focus of the analysis should be a critical examination, rather than a mere description, of the documents. The analysis should include questions about the instructional purpose of the document; how you and students are using it, and how it is (or is not) contributing to learning.

Document analysis works best when the purpose is to gain insight into an instructional activity or approach. It can help you to recognize patterns you might miss if you create one lecture, assignment, or activity at a time. For example, you might review documents to determine whether you presented information using a variety of modes that would suit different learning styles. Learning modes include aural (hearing speech), reading, visual (seeing figures, charts, graphs, pictures) and kinesthetic (using movement and active participation).

Suggested uses of document analysis:

Limitations of document analysis:

Resource requirements

Minimal resources are required, primarily involving the time to select and analyze course documents. You can complete the analysis without involving students, or interrupting the course. Experience or training in content analysis is helpful. Analyzing course documents requires a low to medium time commitment, depending on the number of documents you want to examine. [more]

Plan your document analysis

STEP 1. Describe the context

Include the age, majors, educational background, motivation level, and skill levels of students. Also consider central goals of the course, your ability to implement changes, and how the instructional setting impacts your course. A worksheet is available to help you document your instructional context.

STEP 2. Identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions

Identify what is most essential for students, your needs, and any organizational priorities that impact your course. Central questions, informed by these needs, specify what you want to learn from an assessment. For example, "Are students effectively learning from class discussions in my course?" A worksheet is available to help you identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions.

STEP 3. Determine the purpose of the document analysis

Because it is too cumbersome to examine every aspect of instruction at once, start with clear goals about what you would like to learn and narrow your focus. Whether you analyze documents to immediately adjust instruction or as part of an overall evaluation will determine your focus and what documents to review. A worksheet is available to help you develop and refine your study’s purposes.

STEP 4. Determine how you will use the results

How you intend to use results should also guide the focus of your document analysis. If analyzing a particular document will not guide course content or instruction, choose a different document or consider another assessment method. A worksheet is available to help exemplify how to use results after determining the purpose of a study.

STEP 5. Develop document analysis criteria

Establish clear criteria before you analyze documents.   How deeply you analyze documents depends on your central question(s). Make sure you establish clear criteria for ratings such as "none," "little," "medium," or "extensive" and concretely define the relative importance of different criteria. Refer to the teaching assessment planning process for additional help in developing your criteria.   

Additional information

Chism, N.V.N. (1999). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

McNamara, C. (1998). Basic guide to program evaluation. Retrieved June 28, 2006 from http://www.mapnp.org/library/evaluatn/fnl_eval.htm

Weber, R.P. (1990). Basic Content Analysis, 2nd ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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