In their article "Measuring Up: How to Manage Those Dreaded Course Evaluations," Halonen and Dunn acknowledge that the pandemic seems to have made end-of-semester student feedback harsher than ever. They provide some excellent advice to take before wading into those treacherous waters, but much of what they suggest involves proactive steps you can take throughout the semester.
The authors have some excellent suggestions that address many of the most common problems we see with course evaluations - low response rates, personal attacks, and general crankiness among them. A piece of advice that fits really well into this course is to "teach your students the 'etiquette' of course evaluations'':
Undergraduates who spent much of 2020-22 attending class online might especially be in need of some basic training on how to make substantive praise and criticism on course evaluations. To improve the helpfulness and civility of student comments, take some time in class next fall to explain the value of constructive and helpful feedback. Define what you mean by “helpful” (comments focused on course structure and assignments, not on whether the student liked the material) and “civil” (criticism of the workload is valid, cheap shots at the professor’s looks are not).
Personally, I don't know if I've ever had a class where the instructor explicitly talked about feedback or any of the processes around getting it or giving it. My instructors explained many things, but never this one, apparently.
Whether you teach course evaluation etiquette with the goal of improving the feedback on end-of-semester evaluations or as an introduction to a semester-long invitation to feedback, being forthright about the process of giving and receiving feedback seems like a great step to take!
Respond to feedback
After reviewing the feedback, start the next class by opening a conversation about what they said and how you plan to address it or not. Ten to twenty minutes should provide sufficient time for discussion. Make the discussion about how you and the students can create a course that best supports their learning. Remind students that this is a joint effort and good communication is central to the teacher-student relationship. Often you will find students are asking for you to do more of something or to modify something you already do. This provides an opportunity to reinforce for students (and yourself) the strengths of the course and how you plan to build on those strengths.
Focus on student learning
Avoid soliciting feedback in the form of “likes” or “dislikes.” Instead, create opportunities for students to reflect on their learning - what elements of the class have been most helpful and supporting of their learning? What has been the least helpful and supporting of their learning? Ask students to identify specific teaching strategies or aspects of the course design in explaining their responses.
You don’t need to make changes
If students identify an element of your course or specific instructional strategy as not helpful in their learning, you don’t necessarily need to head back to the drawing board. Instead, use the opportunity to make your practice visible to your students and explain how the instructional decisions you’ve made support the learning outcomes of the class. When tasks appear meaningless or unconnected to their learning, students are less likely to find the motivation necessary to complete them. While students may not enjoy an element of the class, they should at least understand why you have included it.
Connect course design to students own understanding of their learning
A good conversation about what is and is not working well for students in a course will help students to better understand their own learning. In addition, hearing from other students about different ways of learning in the course can help students approach the course in new ways. Having this conversation in front of the whole class not only reinforces effective study strategies in the course, but provides an opportunity for students to see how the course is designed to maximize their learning.
Each term you teach brings a different set of students to your course. What worked well with one set of students in the past may not work well with others. While there are general learning principles that provide the foundation for learning, you also want to consider how different approaches to course design may work better for different students, different courses, and even classes at different times of day.
K-W-L—or what we know, what we want to know, and what we learned—is an active learning strategy that helps to improve retention and comprehension. K-W-L is an excellent tool for formative assessment to determine prior knowledge or current understanding after instruction for the whole class as well as individual students.
This CAT tests how students are gaining knowledge, or not. The instructor ends class by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?”
One of the simplest and most-used CATs, Muddiest Point helps assess where students are having difficulties. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing.”
What’s the Principle?
This CAT is useful in courses requiring problem-solving. After students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they often must decide what principle(s) to apply in order to solve the problem. What’s the Principle? provides students with a few problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.
Defining Features Matrix
Prepare a handout with a matrix of three columns and several rows. At the top of the first two columns, list two distinct concepts that have potentially confusing similarities (e.g. hurricanes vs. tornadoes, Picasso vs. Matisse). In the third column, list the important characteristics of both concepts in no particular order. Give your students the handout and have them use the matrix to identify which characteristics belong to each of the two concepts. Collect their responses, and you’ll quickly find out which characteristics are giving your students the most trouble.
Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ)
The CIQ is a single page form that is handed out to students once a week at the end of the last class you have with them that week. It comprises five questions, each of which asks students to write down some details about events that happened in the class that week. Its purpose is not to ask students what they liked or didn't like about the class. Instead it gets them to focus on specific, concrete happenings" (Brookfield, 1995)
Ongoing check-in surveys (or conversations)
Check-ins about climate can be as simple as 2 questions: 1) How is class going for you this week? 2) Is there anything happening that I can help with? An optional question might be: Is there anything you’d like to share?
In the 3-2-1 technique, students write about 3 things they learned in the lecture, 2 things they found particularly interesting from the lecture, and 1 question they still have about the lecture content.
When using IRA’s, students complete a written response to a reading assignment that includes three components: 1) Insights, 2) Resources, and 3) Application.
In Translate That!, you pause your lecture and call on a student at random to “translate” the information you just provided into plain English for an imagined audience that you specify.
Ask students to share one word to describe how they’re feeling. You can also invite students to use images or GIFs.
Internal Weather Report
Ask students to describe their current internal weather report (i.e., thoughts and emotions as weather – e.g. “sunny”, partially cloudy, stormy).
Ask students to indicate their level of anxiety using a -10 to +10 scale, based on their window of tolerance.
Once students have experienced some of your check-ins, engage them in creating their own prompts.
You can follow each of these brief check-ins by noting themes, communicating care, and sharing resources that could help your students.
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) - IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning
(6 min read)
Includes recommended CATs for
Identifying Learner Attitudes, Values, and Self-awareness
Assessing Prior Knowledge, Recall, and Understanding
Assessing Higher Order Thinking Skills (analysis, synthesis, problem solving, and application)
Formative Assessment: Checking for Understanding - K. Patricia Cross Academy
(1 min read)
Instructors have many important decisions to make about what to teach, how to teach it, when to review, when to move on, and so forth. We are better able to make important instructional decisions when we have good information about whether and how well students have learned to base these decisions on. It’s even better when the data gathering process can also help to improve student learning.
Four Connections: Check in Regularly - COD Faculty Professional Development
(1 min read)
Checking in on our students can - and should - have many different meanings. We check in on their learning by using formative assessment; we check in on their experience of the class with surveys and evaluations; we check in on their physical, emotional, and mental health through observations, conversations, and inquiry. But getting this feedback from students - whether they be the answers in low-stakes quizzes, or comments on a survey - is only half of this 4 Connections best practice. The key piece in engaging students and helping them succeed is what we do with the information we get from checking in.
Integrating Well-Being in Your Classroom - George Mason University
(11 min read)
The following quick and simple activities can help you and your students get focused and centered. We call these “re-wiring activities” – rewiring your brain to optimize learning and engagement.
Using Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Proactive Approach for Online Learning - Faculty Focus
(3 min read)
To reach higher efficiency and success, formative assessments such as Angelo and Cross’ (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to check for student understanding prior to the summative assessment within the online classroom. The following strategies have been found to be both simple and effective for both the instructor and student in online modalities.
Polling tools for instant feedback
Mentimeter - https://www.mentimeter.com
Poll Everywhere - https://www.polleverywhere.com
Quizizz - https://quizizz.com
Tools for creating forms
Google Forms - https://www.google.com/forms/about/
Jotform - https://www.jotform.com
Microsoft Forms - https://forms.office.com
Inquiry: Gather and Learn from Additional Student Feedback
Chapter from: Artze-Vega, I., Darby, F., Dewsbury, B., & Imad, M. (2023). The Norton Guide to equity-minded teaching. W.W. Norton and Company.
Equity-minded teaching is a process of inquiry, so gathering focused data on students' experiences is key to identifying the improvements that will make the biggest differences for them.