Using Student Evaluations to Help Students LearnEnd-of-semester student evaluations provide useful information about student perceptions of the course and the instructor. Student feedback can be an effective method to adjust your course and enhance student learning.
Demonstrate that You Care about Student Feedback
- Let students know you care about their academic progress and tell them what changes you made over the years because of student evaluations.
- Consider conducting a mid-semester evaluation or a student focus group to demonstrate you care about student feedback and to adjust some elements of the course before the end-of-the-semester evaluations.
- Set aside class time to administer the evaluation. This is essential because evaluations are generally considered valid if 80% or more of students respond. If you are using an online evaluation, consider scheduling it on a day when you are in a computer lab. It takes about 20 minutes to administer a student evaluation.
- Consider administering end-of-the-semester evaluations a week before finals. Students will take more care with an evaluation if they are not overwhelmed by other tasks.
- Consider returning a major assignment a week or two before administering the evaluations. Students need to align their understanding of the course with your assessment of their work. They also need some time to calmly reflect on the feedback. Students will then be able to effectively report in their evaluations on how much they learned in the course.
Review Numeric Scores
- Look at the number of students who completed the evaluations. If less than ten students completed the evaluations, the results are not reliable enough to make any conclusions. Consider combining ratings across semesters and looking for trends year by year, rather than semester by semester.
- Review the mean rating as well as the range, median, and/or the standard deviation (if provided). Depending on the size of the class, the mean could be affected by outliers. Look at the range of ratings and the median, or the middle rating, to help eliminate that effect. You can also look at the standard deviation---on a five-point scale, a standard deviation lower than one indicates reasonably good agreement amongst your students. If higher, there was less agreement.
- Identify the three highest and lowest scores. Use the mean scores if departmental or university norms are not provided. What do these scores tell you about what went well in the class? What needs improvement?
Review Written Comments
- Having identified crucial areas of interest by looking at the numeric scores, write down three questions you have about the course. Read through the students’ written comments and determine what they have to say about those questions. Use the numeric scores to identify the tenor of the class; use the written scores to identify the specifics of the situation.
- Pinpoint specific complaints and, using the syllabus, assignments, and assessments, determine whether the complaint is justified. If it is, then identify what steps you can take to address the weakness.
- If there are one or two hurtful statements, ignore them. Everyone gets one or two of these!
- Save lengthy and meaningful positive comments and incorporate them in your teaching statement. Tape your favorites next to your computer to keep you inspired!
Determine What Changes You Will Make
- Low scores on teacher-student rapport can often be addressed by learning student names, being clear about your grading criteria, using active learning, requiring students to visit your office hours, and chatting with students before and after class.
- Low scores on organization of the course can often be addressed by examining the syllabus and grading criteria, determining whether course assignments and class objectives are aligned, improving preparedness during class lectures or activities, and handing back graded assignments and assessments sooner.
- Low scores on instructor knowledge can often be addressed by making your content knowledge more visible to students (i.e. incorporating your research or content interests into the course) and improving your presentation of the material (i.e. practicing lectures beforehand, having materials and technology ready).
- Instructional consultants read a lot of student evaluations and can help you put your scores into perspective. In addition, a professional consultant can help brainstorm ideas for addressing lower scores.
- Reading written comments about oneself is always difficult. A professional consultant can help you read them dispassionately.
Using Evaluations for Summative Purposes
- Please refer to Tips for Using Student Evaluations to Assess Teaching Effectiveness.
Cashin, W. E. (1990). Student ratings of teaching: Recommendations for use. Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Center. Retrieved from: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_22.pdf
Davis, B. D. (2009). Student rating forms. In Tools for teaching (2nd ed.) (pp. 534-550). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Authored by Terri Tarr (February, 2005)
Revised by Sarah Lang (October, 2011)