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7 ways to make your student course evaluations more effective

Student course evaluations: three words that often spark strong reactions from new and experienced faculty alike. In the hands of faculty, though, well-structured evaluations can build trust while improving course delivery and effectiveness. Here’s how...

Students ignore them. Faculty avoid them. Many hotly debate the appropriateness of student evaluations for tenure or promotion.

Despite their mixed reputation, student course evaluations can be transformative for faculty who embrace the process and use the feedback for improvement.

What are the benefits of student course evaluations?

Course evaluations demonstrate to students that faculty are learners, too.

As Brené Brown’s work teaches us, vulnerability is a super-power. By opening up to their critical feedback, faculty signal trust in students which bolsters their own trustworthiness.

A course evaluation system helps us see students more clearly.

We are all likely to make assumptions about the students in our classes. “If you are reading this and thinking, ‘I don’t make these assumptions,’ I suggest you look at your courses and the way they are designed,” says Dr. Alana Sejdic, Director of Academic and Student Disability Services at Albertus Mangus College in New Haven, CT. “The design of your course will indicate your assumptions about students and may reflect some implicit assumptions of which you are not fully aware.”

Faculty assumptions and student experiences are part of the scaffolding of the courses we teach.

From how the examples and exercises used in class resonate with diverse students to whether a course is truly accessible, the only way to know is to ask students.

7 ways to make your student course evaluations more effective:

1. Be clear

The usefulness of the student feedback depends on the type of questions asked. Questions must be clearly written and encourage students to provide actionable feedback, going deeper than simple Likert scale responses.

2. Give student-centered/course-focused feedback

When the purpose of gathering feedback is an improvement, student course evaluations should strike a balance in asking for both summative and formative feedback, focusing on the course from the student’s perspective. For example, a student satisfaction question will be far less informative and actionable than queries about the course structure, texts and examples, teaching methods, and student learning.

3. Stay neutral

Structuring value-neutral questions is critical to receiving useful feedback. For example, yes/no questions can be leading questions. Instead of asking “Did you feel you learned a great deal in this course?”, ask something like “To what extent do you feel you mastered the course content?”

4. Make it feel engaging

The course evaluation process should allow students to feel heard, but only if the questions are relevant. While standardized questions allow for faculty to compare responses over time, questions that are too general, vague, or irrelevant can decrease participation and may even result in response bias.

5. Underscore the value of the evaluation

Clearly state the purpose of the evaluation at the top of the survey. Reinforce the importance of feedback to course development and delivery. Let students know that their input is essential for improving courses and is personally important to you for your growth as a faculty member.

6. Keep it anonymous

Recognize that students may have had negative experiences providing feedback to faculty members or other authority figures. Students may hesitate to provide honest feedback if they fear being identified by their responses. Consider not asking demographic questions, particularly in courses where they are the only student in particular race/ethnicity. gender, level, or major.

7. Be timely

Along with formative cues along the way as the class develops, a summative assessment can provide the kind of feedback faculty need to adjust courses and pedagogy to be most effective. However, course evaluations are only helpful if faculty receive the results in time to consider and make changes to address the feedback in subsequent courses.

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