I received my student evaluations of teaching for the spring semester of 2019 about an hour ago. I taught four classes this semester, and at my institution for every class we receive a one page summary of our evaluations, a one page summary of our progress on relevant learning objects (which we identify before the evaluations go out), tips for improving your teaching effectiveness based on the quantitative responses, the raw data for each response, and qualitative responses (i.e. written student feedback).
For this post, I will be providing something of a “live update” / immediate recap of reading through the evaluations. I will not necessarily be writing about what the evaluations say specifically. Instead, I will be focusing more on my mindset in regards to consuming the information provided AND how to get something valuable for me as an instructor out of reading the evaluations.
To prepare for reading my student evaluations of teaching, I found an article online discussing interpreting responses on student evaluations (it can be found here). The author of this article encourages instructors to do a number of things:
1. to focus on the range of responses on qualitative questions in addition to the average
2. to situate both quantitative and qualitative responses within your unique context along the career continuum
3. to target either highest rated items for strengths to retain or lowest rated items for areas of greatest improvement,
4. if particularly critical comments are made, determine if there is some “truth” to them or if they are an outlier.
And 5. to review each course evaluation holistically, not simply item by item.
I agree with all of these points and used them to guide my consumption of the information provided within each evaluation. For instance, I had always focused more-so on the average for each quantitative response, but today I spent time combing through the raw data to ensure that there were no bimodal response sets. Fortunately, I did not find any, suggesting that my teaching methods and course potentially have a similar impact on all students (for better or for worse). Additionally, I took the time to read through each qualitative response immediately after reviewing my quantitative raw data. While I always read every word of the qualitative responses (more on this to come), this time I was reading them with the mindset that they complimented the provided student feedback. There were sentences here and there that I could see directly impacted the numeric feedback a student provided on a particular question. I was trying my best to be holistic in reading both the quantitative and qualitative information.
With that being said, I want to add some of my own thoughts to the list above. To start, I found myself adopting a completely different perspective when reading the feedback for each class. For example, I taught one course mostly composed of first-year students of all majors, another course filled with only senior psychology majors, and another statistic heavy course. As you could imagine, the qualitative responses coming from each of these classes were quite different. Something else that I want to add to the above list is to compare evaluations for the classes in your current semester to past evaluations you received for the same course. In conjunction with the changes I have made to each class, it was very handy to see how some of my changes resulted in their intended effects (such as making one class more focused on group work, and oral communication). Additionally, you can see how you are growing and changing as an instructor. Perhaps you have worked to retain strengths from prior semester AND worked to improve weaker spots in your evaluations. If nothing else, returning to view past evaluations for similar courses serves as a reminder of where you were before as an instructor and can help you situate your entire career progression rather than simply being focused on a performance review of your past 15 weeks of teaching. Taking this step to broaden one’s perspective while consuming the evaluation information has been quite helpful for me personally.
One other point I want to stress, because I have struggled with this for a while now, is to maintain your confidence when reading student feedback. You might receive excellent feedback from all but one of your students, but we are still going to be stung by that one student who writes “they are the worst and every class was miserable” (usually in more words in my experience). It can be quite tough to keep your confidence and calm when reading something like this, but remembering the greater perspective always helps me here. For every student who writes something like this, perhaps there are five, 10, or even 20 who write the polar opposite. When it comes to student comments, as long as there are not multiple students writing similar things (my cut off here is about three or so per class of 20), I adopt the outlook of focusing on my strengths as indicated in other student feedback. As mentioned before, this could be for the better or for the worse, but in my case, it helps me deal with the negative comments on a personal level.
The last point I want to add is that it is important to be intentional when processing the information provided in student evaluations. When I say intentional I mean being deliberate and purposeful in the consumption of the information. In keeping with the spirit of remaining holistic, many instructors set goals for themselves and these student evaluations provide a wonderful reference point for your progress on your goals. For example, I set a goal to try and connect with more students this year than I did last year. To that end, at least half of the written comments for each class mentioned something about “meeting with the professor outside of class” or “approaching the professor was easy and inviting”. If we are intentional in the goals we set, and intention in our consumption of student feedback we can construct a compelling case to the administration in end of year reports regarding our continuous improvement as faculty.
Thanks for reading everyone. I would love to hear what others think or remind themselves when they read through their student evaluations of teaching. Feel free to leave a comment below adding in our own thoughts.
written by Brian Day