Blog Post

Teaching and Student Evaluations

One of the doctoral students in my program sent this link around: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/instant_mentor/weir18. It's about how to read and sort through student evaluations. I thought this was really helpful advice on how to approach student evaluations of your teaching.

I found my student evaluations from this past semester very interesting. My advisor and I went over them together and that was extremely helpful because she helped me shift through them and determine which comments I should give more thought to and which comments I should just let go.

After I read this article, I rememberred that a friend of mine said her statistics professor gave an online survey after every class, asking students to rate the class on a few questions. I wrote this professor and asked him about this. He said that he did it for the first 8 classes because, at that point, things seemed to be going fine. He said that almost all the students answered the surveys at first.

He asked about pacing, how well they understood the lecture, and what questions they had remaining. These seemed like good questions and I'm considering doing the same this coming semester.

 

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5 comments

Laura, I'm curious about what happened to these surveys for the remainder of the class? Did students stop participating? Sometimes I will do mid-quarter reviews just to make sure everyone is on board and the class is helpful for them. Sometimes anonymity makes them a little bolder and gives me a better idea of where I can adapt to the particular group of students. It also gave me an opportunity to point out their responsibilities as students - some of them needed reminding that I can't read minds and have no way of knowing whether I'm answering the right questions if no one is asking.

I've been advised against this tactic by some, however. Some professors feel like giving students an opportunity to complain will open up the floodgates and create unrealistic expectations. I've not experienced this myself, but I'm sure others have experience validating this view.

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Hey Amanda! The professor who was doing the surveys said that he stopped because the class was on the right track. I assumed that that meant that the survey results started to be more uniform around the answers he was trying to obtain. So for instance, he asked about pacing. I assume that the responses to that question started to be mostly to the effect of "good pace - not too fast, not too slow."

I love what you say with this line: "some of them needed reminding that I can't read minds and have no way of knowing whether I'm answering the right questions if no one is asking." Man, is that ever true!!

And yes, I too have been concerned about the complaining - will this just be an invitation to complain. I asked another professor in my school (the one who oversees us docs in our teaching) what she thought. She liked the ideea. So I did decided to try it. Have already given the first survey. Will let you know how it goes.

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Thanks for the ideas about student evaluations.  It's always a challenge to get honest, thoughtful, constructive feedback from students AND then how to figure out how to interpret that feedback!  I am curious about the surveys you mentioned, Laura, and how they were impemented.  Were they anonymous?

I agree with Amanda and have had similar helpful experiences with mid-semester evaluations.  I offer them time in class to anonymously fill out a sheet with some questions, and to make their own suggestions for how they'd like the class to continue or change.  That way, at least in theory, they have some say about the actual class they are taking - and not just some hypothetical class in the uncertain future.  They seem to appreciate having that chance to give me feedback.  Like Amanda, I haven't found this to be a problem in terms of creating unattainable expectations.  I would say that they are typically quite realistic about the constraints of any given course.

If anyone has ideas about using some kind of online or software feature to create anonymous and simple surveys for students to take, I'd be very interested in the process.

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Hey Michelle,

I am doing what that professor did. We have a free service here at UNC through the Odum Institute for online surveys (Qualtrics). So I signed up for an account. I send the students a link and they go take it online. It is anonymous - I have no idea who is saying what; and Qualtrics will let me download the responses in an Excel spreadsheet.

You can also sign up for a SurveyMonkey.com account. I believe its around $10 for unlimited surveys of any length. They also have a free version with limitations on the number of surveys and the length of them.

I've also done this in the past: offer the survey in Word on the class website and then tell them they can print it out and slip it into my mailbox (I won't see them doing this). So they still get the anonymity. Or if they don't mind me knowing who they are, they can just email it back to me or hand it to me in class.

But the online survey thing is really nice because then I can more easily compare responses within a survey and between surveys as you can imagine.

 

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Hi.  Thanks for the great ideas.  I'm honestly not sure if my university supports its own online survey system for instructors (outside of its use by the admin, the library, and departments).  I'll look into that.  In the meantime, SurveyMonkey looks like a pretty decent compromise.

Anyone else have ideas about conducting anonymous course evaluations (outside of whatever officious forms we might be required to use for the administration)?

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