Thursday, April 23, 2009

Evaluation season is upon us

At the end of each semester, many students dread their upcoming finals. Many instructors dread the ratings and comments that students provide as evaluations of the course. But fear not - student course evaluations can be our friends!

The purpose of end-of-term evaluations is to give students a chance to provide constructive feedback about the course and the instructor's approach to teaching it. These comments can be used for a variety of purposes, such as RPT (retention, promotion, and tenure) reviews. My hope is that they are also being used to inform future offerings of the course, the instructor's teaching, and students' decisions about course selection.

Now of course, to be able to use student feedback in this way, students need to be motivated to provide feedback, and educated as to how to provide feedback that will be useful to instructors. How often have you seen "This course is great!" (or "This course sucks!"), but have had no idea what was so great (or so awful)?

Having an open discussion with students about what comprises quality feedback may help improve the utility of end-of-term student course evaluations (for both the instructor and future students). You can also provide students with practice, through midterm evaluation opportunities and asking students to evaluate one another's work in class. (After all, this is a great educational opportunity, and the ability to provide useful feedback will likely come in handy for students in the future.) It also is beneficial to let students know how the evaluations will be used, and what the implications are for students like themselves. One of this year's TA Scholars, Tim Edgar, worked with CTLE team members Darrell Coleman and Jill Stephenson to create a project designed to help instructors with some of these issues.

So once you get feedback, what do you do with it? How do you interpret the results? How do you make sense of all those written comments, many of which seem to contradict one another? Well, we're hosting a workshop on May 29 (with a repeat on June 5) that will help you answer some of these questions. You can learn more and register to attend (for free!) here. Look here for a video of the workshop a few weeks after it has been presented.

And how do student course evaluations help students? Currently, students can access evaluation results to help them make decisions about course selection. Unfortunately, sometimes these can be hard to find and to interpret, so many students prefer to use services such as (Read what students have to say here.) But we are doing something about it! Stay tuned for news about how a working group comprised of students and faculty are planning to address the problem, and put student course evaluation results to better work for all of us!

Photo courtesy of Gideon Burton.

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