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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Getting Ready (already?) for Student Evaluations

Wait – it’s only August. Should you be thinking about this already? As you might expect, the answer is YES! It is never too early to start thinking about and planning for your fall courses, especially if you are going to do student evaluations in any or all of your courses.

One of the biggest issues that faculty deal with when it comes to student course evaluations is the response rate. Administrators think this is important because they want to know that the students in your class are engaged not only in the material but also in the class as a whole! Statistically, a larger sample size (i.e. a higher response rate) is important for the reliability of the evaluation results.  Think about that infamous site, Rate My Professor. It is often the case that the students who have the biggest beef with a teacher or the ones who love the teacher are the ones who post comments. In other words, the highly motivated! Your goal should be to collect information from every student because every voice counts. The most important part of hearing from as many students as possible is that these students can help you improve the student experience and will frame your work for the following quarter. So how do you get all students to be among the highly motivated, not only willing to complete student evaluations but ready to share their constructive thoughts? We’ll come back to the idea of constructive thoughts in a moment.

Begin at the very beginning! Include information about student evaluations in your syllabus. If you use an online evaluation instrument (as we do at Everett Community College), then you can post the link in your syllabus along with information about how to login. Talk to students on the first day to let them know why evaluations are important. Course improvement can only happen when students let you know in their feedback what went well (and what didn’t go so well). Let students know about any changes you’ve made based on feedback in previous classes. You might say something like, “I used to give daily quizzes in this class, but learned from past students that weekly quizzes worked best.”

Many people also believe that it’s important to remind students about any changes you have made during the term based on other types of student feedback (formative assessments such as PLUS/DELTA). As you get closer to the date of the student evaluation, you could remind students that you have responded to their requests for things such as different kinds of assignments or projects, or maybe changing dates of exams.  
Let’s get back to the idea of constructive comments from students. In my classroom experience, students don’t always know how to tell their instructors what is or isn’t working. And in many cases, instructors don’t ask. I got into the habit of asking a few times a term using quick formative assessments such as the Minute Paper, and definitely the mid-quarter PLUS/DELTA. In all cases student comments were anonymous. Sometimes I planned when I was going to do a formative assessment (such as after a particularly difficult lesson or unit) and other times, after teaching a lesson, I wanted to get a feel for how things went from a student perspective. I learned a lot about my teaching from students, and they helped me become a better teacher. But students have to learn what constructive comments are, so when I told them what I learned from their comments, I made sure to tell them which ones helped and which ones didn’t. These conversations helped both of us; it helped students to give helpful suggestions, and it helped me get a better read on how the class was going. And, to bring this home, in classes where I did regular formative assessments, I had better response rates on course evaluations.

So…now is the time to start thinking about and reflecting on student evaluations, past and future, as a way to improve both the student experience and student success.

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