Student Evaluations of Teaching - Course Evaluations
Course evaluations, or student evaluation of teaching (SETs), are a tool widely used to measure teaching effectiveness in higher education and compare it across different courses, teachers, departments, and the institution at large. Course evaluation results can and have been used in a variety of ways including but not limited to individual course improvement, curriculum development, pedagogical development and refinement, promotion and tenure decisions, general education assessment, and accreditation activities.
Student ratings and comments in course evaluations provide a single measure in a constellation of measurements of teaching effectiveness in higher education. As noted by IDEA, "effective instructor evaluation is complex and requires the use of multiple measures - formal and informal, traditional and authentic - as part of a balanced evaluation system" (p. 1). Indeed, the student voice in course evaluations is an important piece of this balanced evaluation system alongside self and peer evaluations of teaching effectiveness. It is important to provide a means for students to have a voice and for faculty to remain accountable to their students. It is also important to contextualize end of course evaluations of teaching effectiveness. Student ratings and comments provide one source of data. Further, it is the students' perspective at one particular moment in time, at the end of the course. As with other types of data, contextualizing data gathered from students in course evaluations is the keystone for fairly assessing teaching practices at any institution.
In the areas below, we will outline factors to think about when interpreting student evaluation data. We also provide further reading and other relevant resources. We also strongly recommend that review and promotion committees value student ratings and feedback data in light of self-assessment and peer review; taken together, these three areas offer meaningful data and analysis for evaluation. Reviewing the instructor's interpretation of student data - along with the instructor's discussion of instructional contexts, innovations, and classroom evidence - reflects robust best practice.
The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (IRA) conducts course evaluations university wide. Course evaluation reports are sent directly to the instructor of record listed in Banner. Aggregate reports are also prepared for departments, deans, and the Provost.
Best Practices, Additional Information, & Resources
Student evaluation of teaching data should be analyzed by looking for patterns and themes in the data from both quantitative and qualitative responses. For reference, Howard University's end of course evaluation form can be viewed below by clicking the link.
Questions for identifying patterns and themes in data:
- What patterns, if any, are indicated in the numerical ratings? Ratings for some items may help to make sense of ratings for others.
- What patterns or themes are indicated in qualitative comments? Themes in qualitative comments can be quantified to demonstrate the degree of student consensus on particular aspects of the course.
- Are there patterns across question types? Quantitative ratings may reflect points raised in students' open-ended comments or vice versa. Both sets of questions may inform an instructor's own self-assessment, a peer review, or other forms of data.
Questions for contextualizing student data:
- What is the teaching context? Take into account course characteristics such as size of the course, whether an instructor is co-teaching, and whether the instructor supervises TAs. How do these ratings compare to: The instructor’s other courses; ratings for courses with similar sizes, levels, or content; or other courses with similar backgrounds and preparation?
- What changes have occurred over time? What has improved?
- What ratings stand out to the instructor and why? Instructors have the most context for the course, including their aims in teaching. What ratings do instructors find most useful for their own self-assessment in both strengths and areas for growth, and why?
- What information is available to help clarify specific issues? Qualitative data, particularly, may help provide a more nuanced understanding of the course context or a particular issue raised in other data under review.
Best Practices for Instructors
Below are some best practices for administering evaluations in order to gather substantive feedback from students.
- Clearly explain the value of course evaluations to your class. You could share a story about how information from your course evaluations in the past changed something in one of your classes.
- Allow time in class (10 minutes) for students to work on their course evaluation for your course. You should not stay in the room for this if the class is in-person. You should also leave the "room" if in a virtual environment.
- When course evaluations are open, give weekly reminders to your students. You can include information on how to access their course evaluations either through their email or Blackboard.
- Remind students that this is their opportunity to be heard and provide constructive feedback for you and the course as a whole.
- Discuss how you use course evaluation data to improve pedagogy and curriculum.
- Encourage students to fill out course evaluations for your class as well as others.
- Emphasize the anonymity of course evaluations. Inform students that all course evaluation submissions are anonymous and instructors only receive aggregate reports for their course(s) after grades have been submitted.
Below are some best practices for presenting student evaluation data.
- Summarize and contextualize the data. Summarizing student feedback within a narrative can contextualize the feedback you receive in terms of your teaching approach. Be sure to describe and address strong themes across the student feedback you receive. Additionally, be sure to indicate how these comments were determined to be representative (e.g., what percentage of students provided comments? How many comments support each theme?).
- Strategically organize your course evaluation data. As an instructor, you could provide an overall summary of all course evaluation data gathered over several semesters or years via half- or full-page summaries for individual courses. Feedback can also be organized into a chart that may be structured in a variety of ways (e.g., by courses taught, themes in student feedback, or in another way that aligns with your approach to teaching).
- Describe specific feedback you receive from your students. Be sure to include representative examples of student feedback that demonstrates your strengths and growth as a teacher. Cite student comments describing specific practices (e.g., the impact of a particular classroom activity, pedagogical strategy, or high impact practice) rather than generalized comments.
- Demonstrate growth and flexibility by describing exactly how and why you have solicited student feedback and incorporated useful feedback into your teaching.
- Frame summaries as student-centered by focusing on the effectiveness of teaching practices on student learning.
Best Practices for Administrators
Below are some best practices for administrators when reviewing course evaluation results.
- See ratings data as suggestive and not definitive. Student evaluations should be considered in the context of other evaluation materials such as peer review and self-assessment.
- Account for variables. Consider the number and percentage of students who provide data (e.g., the larger the N, and the greater the percentage of students who respond, the more reliable the data). Additionally, consider whether the instructor used best practices for administering evaluations (see above section for examples).
- Seek evidence of responsiveness to course evaluation results. Look for examples of changes in the course as a result of student feedback in evaluation summaries and other materials as applicable.
- Be comprehensive in reading instructor's evaluation materials. While focusing on overall summative ratings, look at the distribution of student responses rather than just the mean score. We also recommend focusing on general categories (such as "Strongly Agree" and "Agree") rather than minor point differentials. If an instructor has offered multiple versions of the same course, aggregate data across courses.
Mid-term Course Evaluations
Mid-term evaluations are a formative assessment tool that can be used to gather feedback on pedagogy and curriculum while the course is in progress. This feedback enables and empowers instructors to act quickly on received feedback and implement changes for continuous improvement. Making changes to the course and connecting the received feedback to these changes can increase student engagement and learning. Mid-term evaluations differ from end-of-term course evaluations which are summative in nature. Further, data collected from end-of-term course evaluations can only be used to improve future course offerings. Mid-term evaluation data can be used during the semester to improve the course in real time.
Mid-term evaluations are also beneficial as they establish an ongoing dialogue with students. This opens an opportunity for ongoing dialogue between instructor and student and provides an avenue for students to raise any concern. Instructors also benefit as the feedback they receive allow them to gauge student expectations, enhance teaching effectiveness, and improve end-of-term assessments.
Administering Mid-term Course Evaluations
If you are thinking of implementing mid-term evaluations, it is important to keep some best practices in mind. Below are some suggestions for conducting mid-term evaluations in your course.
Timing: When to conduct mid-term evaluations is dependent on the length of your course. It is recommended that you administer mid-term assessments half-way through the course cycle. This gives students enough time to understand the course and their relationship to it leading to more insightful feedback.
Questionnaire Design: Conducting a mid-term evaluation allows you to ask more reflective questions of your students. Be sure to ask questions where action can be taken on the collected feedback. Additionally, only ask questions you need to know the answers to. Mid-course evaluations should be short and to the point. Unnecessary or extraneous questions should not be included on the questionnaire. Some sample questions are listed below.
- What are the strengths of this course?
- Do you find the format of this class helpful to the way you learn?
- What approaches does the instructor use that help you learn?
- What changes could be made in the course to improve your learning?
- What changes could be made to the teaching approach that could improve your learning?
Communication: It is important to take time in class to explain the mid-term evaluation process to your students. Be sure to inform your students that their responses will remain anonymous and will only be used to improve the course and their learning. It is also useful to provide students with personal examples of how you used past student feedback made improvements to the course.
Administering Evaluations: Similar to end-of course evaluations, we recommend giving students time in class to complete their mid-term evaluation. Schedule 10 minutes at the beginning or end of class to complete the assessment.
Interpreting Results: Once mid-term evaluations are complete, be sure to set aside time to analyze and interpret the results. It is recommended to build in this time at the beginning of the semester.
Sharing Feedback: It is important to close the feedback loop by sharing and discussing the results of the mid-term evaluation with your students. This can be accomplished during class time where you inform students of how you are going to address their concerns. While you may not be able to address all concerns, highlight 2-3 areas where you will be adjusting the course or your pedagogy. Sharing the results with your students will increase their interest and engagement with the course evaluation process.
Implementing Changes: Obtaining mid-term feedback is key to identifying areas for teaching and course improvement. The goal of mid-term evaluations is always continuous improvement. The advantage of mid-term course evaluations lies in its flexibility. Receiving feedback before the course ends allows instructors to identify and address any gaps and make requisite changes before the course ends.
The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (IRA) does not mandate or manage mid-term course evaluations. IRA does, however, offer best practice advice, resources, and in some cases consultation for how to create, distribute, and manage a mid-term course evaluation. Mid-term evaluations can be administered in a variety of formats (e.g., electronic, paper and pencil, index cards, etc.). It is up to the discretion of the individual faculty member to determine the best way to administer these evaluations if they choose to employ them.
Below is a download for a Qualtrics mid-term course evaluation template. The template can be downloaded, uploaded to Qualtrics, and modified in order to meet the needs of our faculty. Faculty can also reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if they have any questions or would like to set up a meeting.
Mid-term Evaluation Example - Word Document
Download Qualtrics Template Here (Click) - Select download after clicking the link.