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Teaching Tip: Considering Teaching Evaluations at the Beginning of the Semester

January 6, 2013

Over my 35+ years of college teaching, I have come to view course evaluations as a chore– one of those obligations we do at the end of each course. And the comments students dash off can be more confusing than clarifying. With the right approach, though, course evaluations can be a very constructive tool. One of the keys, according to Faculty Focus (Jan.2, 2013) is to solicit feedback throughout the course, rather than waiting until the end when it’s too late to make improvements.

Here are a few strategies to think about before the start of the Spring semester:

  1. Ask the right questions. If you want to know if one of your primary learning outcomes is being achieved, ask. It’s the student’s perspective, but it can be a valuable piece of information.
  2. Ask for written comments. Comments can be insightful. But keep your questions simple, like these three:
    1. What is one thing you like about this course (so far)?
    2. What is one thing you do not like about this course (so far)?
    3. What is one thing that could be improved in this course?
  3. Survey more than once. Perhaps 1/3 or halfway through the semester, and once more. Assess any progress you made from the comments on the first survey. Don’t wait until the department’s formal end-of-course evaluation. Your students will also appreciate your genuine interest in improving the course for them. If your course gets off track a little at the beginning, you will have time to get things back on track.
  4. Survey only if you are prepared to deal with the feedback. If you summarize and share the results, and implement the things that are constructive, your students will feel empowered.
  5. Tell your students what you are looking for. Let them know it’s ok to be negative, as long as the criticism is constructive and not mean-spirited.
  6. Keep your perspective (and humor) on things. Once you get the comments, interpret them carefully, but don’t overanalyze or internalize. Ignoring extremes/outliers can provide a good overall indicator.
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