Early Course Evaluations
When to Distribute the Forms
To have the greatest potential benefit to you and your students, conduct your evaluation early, in the first 3 to 6 weeks of a semester long course or the first 2 to 3 weeks of a mini course. By this time students will have a reasonable sample of how you teach and how their learning is evaluated to be able to make substantive comments. It will also allow 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 the class for students to complete the form. If you distribute the forms at the end of the class many students will be too rushed and the quality of the feedback will be diminished.
Preparing Students for the Evaluation
Be sure to tell students that the only purpose of the form is to help you improve so that you can create a better learning experience for them. To make the information most useful, suggest that they write to you rather than about you. Stress that you want candid and constructive responses that will help you meet this goal, and that even a few sentences can give you valuable information. If you will be sharing the information with a faculty colleague, you may want to tell students so that they can phrase their comments appropriately.
Finally, tell the students that you will talk with them about the main points of the feedback you receive. This shows them that you are genuinely interested in their feedback and will respond to their comments. When students believe that their comments will be read and used they are more likely to put effort into the process.
What Kind of Form Should You Use
The Eberly Center recommends using an open-ended approach for thee main reasons:
- It allows students to report on the issues that they perceive most important.
- It is also the case that complete sentences and even phrases jotted down by students can offer a rich picture of their experience in the course.
- you can readily add a question or two to address specific issue(s) you would like to get feedback on.
The following links 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.
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 procedure 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, etc). Once you see an identical or similar comment by another student, rather than write it again make a tally mark 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 most likely be areas of consensus (high frequency) and other areas that have very diverse opinions. Areas of consensus will usually be your highest priority in considering change for improvement.
Interpreting the Results
One way to help you focus your efforts in a constructive and positive way is to further group your students comments into the following categories:
- Strengths – things students said you did well or were good aspects of the course
- Ideas for Change – things students felt were weak or could be improved
- Issues beyond my control – aspects of the course that you can’t change
If there are items that you aren’t sure how to interpret, a colleague or a consultant at the Eberly Center can often help provide an additional perspective.
Discussing the Feedback with your Class
A critical part of the early course evaluation process is discussing the feedback you receive with your students and thanking them for their input. This will set a positive tone for the class and shows a fundamental respect for students’ role in making the class work.
- Select 3 to 5 issues that you want to report to the class. Balance the issues so that you present both positive feedback (strengths) 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 you talk too fast or soft, ask them to indicate with a hand signal or some other sign)
- If you are not going to make changes in some areas students identified as weak, explain why it isn’t possible or why it is important to do it the way you are currently approaching it.
Maintain a positive tone throughout the discussion. It is important not to seem defensive, angry or over-apologetic as these reactions can undermine the value of future evaluations.
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