Reading and Understanding Your Course Evaluations
Using End of Semester Evaluations to Improve Your Teaching
End of semester student evaluations can offer some insight into ways to improve your teaching for future semesters. Interpreting how you should respond to evaluations, however, can be difficult. As you read your end of semester evaluations, keep the following in mind:
- Look for patterns. Individual responses are often contradictory or revealing of only one person’s perspective. Look for ratings or comments that repeat across a variety of students. Do not fixate on outliers. Similarly, do not fixate on negative individual comments, which may not be meaningful.
- As you reflect on your student evaluations think about what you wanted students to get out of class and your own assessment of the class. Put those ideas into dialog with what the students say. Use student comments to prompt questions for yourself, not as the last word on what to do.
- The numbers you see are averages. It may be more helpful to look at distributions and clusters of student answers.
- Reading student evaluations can be stressful. Ask a friend or colleague to help you put the numbers and comments into perspective. Many of us tend to remember the negative comments and miss the more general reactions.
- Ignore small differences. There is little you should conclude if your student evaluations have dropped, or risen, by a few tenths of a point from last semester.
- Remember that difficult classes do not always produce low student satisfaction. There is evidence that students value a challenge if they feel they have been given the tools to meet that challenge.
- Get other feedback. Student evaluations should not be the only measure of your teaching. You may want to consider having other faculty or CTL staff observe your class or review your syllabi or assignments.
Ask for a consult at the Center for Teaching and Learning to arrange for observations, get a recording of your teaching, or strategize individually with CTL staff about ways to respond to student evaluations.
Other Feedback Sources
1. Penn offers an online system called Course Feedback for Instructors which instructors can use throughout the semester to get feedback from students on how the course is going. Instructors can choose (or write) their own questions and use this system twice during the semester. Instructors are the only people who see the feedback they get from this system.
To create a CFI, start here http://www.upenn.edu/eval.
2. Paper forms
If you chose to use paper forms, set aside 15 or 20 minutes of class time for students to fill them out and explain to students that you will be using their answers from these forms to improve the class this semester. You should also tell them that they will fill out another set of Penn evaluations at the end of class that will be used for more administrative purposes.
This form contains three very general questions that might provide a good starting place for evaluation (although you may want to adjust those questions or drop some.)