Early Course Evaluations - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Early Course Evaluations

Why wait until the end of the semester to ask students to evaluate your course? Conducting an early course evaluation allows you to use student feedback to improve a course in progress.

Scheduling an Early Course Evaluation

Ideally, you should conduct your evaluation early – for example, in the first three to six weeks of a semester-long course or the first two to three weeks of a mini course. By this time, students will have a reasonable sense of how you teach and evaluate their learning and will be able to make substantive comments. Conducting the evaluation early also gives you time to make adjustments to your teaching and the course and see their impact.

For best quality feedback, allow 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of class for students to complete the form. If you distribute the forms at the end of class, many students will be too rushed and the quality of the feedback will be diminished.

Preparing Students for the Evaluation

Let students know that you would like their feedback so that you can create a better learning experience for them. Stress that you want candid and constructive responses that will help you meet this goal. Encourage students to write to you rather than about you.

Finally, tell students that you will talk with them about the feedback you receive. This shows them that you are genuinely interested in their feedback and will respond to their comments.

Choosing an Evaluation Form

The Eberly Center recommends using an evaluation form that asks open-ended questions. This allows students to address the issues that they perceive to be the most important. You can always add one or two questions about specific issues or concerns you have.

Sample Forms

Here we provide examples of early course evaluations for instructors and TAs. In addition, the Eberly Center can provide you with assistance in developing your own form.

Organizing Student Feedback

A pile of open-ended responses can seem daunting, but the data can often be easily organized so that you can identify major themes. The following process has been helpful to many faculty:
  • Starting with the first student’s comments, rewrite an abbreviated version of each main point or idea they touch on (e.g., too fast, homework doesn’t relate to lecture). When you see an identical or similar comment by another student, make a tally mark next to the original abbreviated version to indicate that the comment was repeated.
  • Sort the list into themes (e.g., pace, difficulty, presentation skills, tone).
  • Note the frequency of the different kinds of comments.
There will probably be areas of consensus (high frequency) and divergence (low frequency). Areas of consensus will usually be your highest priority when determining what, if anything, to change.

Interpreting Student Feedback

One useful way to make sense of student feedback is to group students’ comments into the following categories:
  • strengths, which are aspects that students felt you did well or were positive aspects of the course
  • ideas for change, which are aspects that students felt were weak or could be improved
  • issues beyond your control, which are that you can’t change
When considering changes, focus on “ideas for change,” but do not lose sight of the strengths students identify! Eberly Center consultants are happy to help you interpret early course evaluations and develop appropriate responses.

Discussing Student Feedback with Your Class

A critical part of the early course evaluation process is discussing the feedback with your students and thanking them for their input. This sets a positive tone for the class and shows a fundamental respect for students’ role in making the class work. Here is a suggested process for discussing this feedback with your class:
  • Select three to five issues that you want to report to the class. Balance the issues so that you present both positive feedback and areas for improvement.
  • If you plan to make changes based on the feedback, explain the changes and the rationale behind them. If possible, enlist students’ help in your efforts (e.g., if they reported that you talk too fast or too softly, ask them to indicate with a hand signal or some other sign when they cannot follow or hear).
  • If you decide not to make changes in an area students identified as problematic, explain why the changes are not possible or why it is important to do it the way you are currently doing it.
Maintain a positive tone throughout the discussion. It is important not to seem defensive, angry, or over-apologetic because these reactions can undermine students’ perceived value of future evaluations.

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