Of all the classroom feedback options, end-of-semester course evaluations–often referred to as Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET)–are the most problematic. In her book Geeky Pedagogy, Jessamyn Neuhaus writes extensively on the questions surrounding the "validity, reliability, and usefulness of SET." While acknowledging all of the issues associated with SET, Neuhaus also recognizes the inherent value in getting summative feedback from students. So what do we do with end-of-semester feedback?
First of all, recognize that if you have been seeking input from your students since the first week of classes as well as responding to and using that feedback, chances are you've done a lot to mitigate what usually causes the least-helpful SET. If there were any issues, challenges, or problems in your class, your students will have let you know before the end of the semester and you will have had opportunities to address them. Your students now know that you value their feedback and take their comments seriously–their course evaluations should reflect this.
Of course, no one can make everyone happy all of the time, so it's worthwhile preparing yourself for some level of negative evaluation. If you have ever received mean, harmful, hurtful, or hateful evaluations from students you are likely not eager to open yourself up to that possibility again and I totally get that. But if you are willing to give end-of-term feedback a try, you'll find some resources to help you contend with negative evaluations. A key approach is to review your evaluations with a trusted colleague–feel free to reach out to me if you ever want someone to work with in interpreting/coping with that feedback!
If you can carve out the time for yourself, the end of the semester is an ideal time to look back over the classes you taught and reflect both on your experiences teaching and your students' experiences learning. But don't stop at the reflection stage! Instead, consider how you can take what you've learned from the past semester–the positive and the not-so-positive–and apply it to the next.
Use the following framework from Columbia University's Center for Teaching and Learning or check out the University of Cambridge's Models of Reflective Practice to create your own approach.
Student Evaluation Wrapper [PDF]
Cognitive wrappers are metacognitive tools that encourage students to reflect on their learning and thinking habits with the goal of improved self-regulation. Here, this faculty development wrapper encourages you to reflect on your teaching and identify practices that help and hinder your goals. [Requires COD login]
Looking for feedback? Ask students to annotate the syllabus
(4 min read)
What if you could get more-targeted feedback, by asking students to review the syllabus after they’ve done the work? Teaching newsletter editor Beckie Supiano spoke to a couple of faculty members who use that strategy. And judging from responses to this Twitter thread, in which a professor advocated such an approach, many people seem intrigued by the idea.
How To Read Student Evaluations Constructively
(7 min read)
In this Academia Made Easier article, Loleen Berdahl addresses the inherent challenges associated with student evaluations of teaching and suggests four considerations to make the process easier and more productive. Read this piece if you'd like to learn more about how your own mindset can make a difference in finding utility in evaluations.
Measuring Up: How to Manage Those Dreaded Course Evaluations
(9 min read)
Jane Halonen and Dana Dunn identify six major issues with course evaluations and provide solutions to address them in this recent Chronicle advice article. The authors conclude the article with some excellent advice for instructors and for institutions.
Reflect: Take the Time to Look Inward and Engage with Student Ratings Data
Chapter from: Artze-Vega, I., Darby, F., Dewsbury, B., & Imad, M. (2023). The Norton Guide to equity-minded teaching. W.W. Norton and Company.
Identifying the impact of our teaching requires meaningul personal reflection and deep engagement with student perspectives, including data colected regularly in the form of student course ratings.
Making Sense of Student Feedback Guide [PDF]
Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary
While parts of this guide are specific to the feedback processes at a particular institution, overall, this resource provides general tools and strategies for organizing and interpreting student feedback. Sections in this guide include the what, why and how of making sense of student feedback, and provide several resources and examples.