November 13th, 2008

DIY Rating Form


Have you ever constructed your own student rating form? If you haven’t, you ought to consider doing it. First, the reasons why: It’s a chance to get student feedback on those aspects of instruction that matter most to you and that reflect the activities and learning opportunities in which your students participate. Most end-of-course rating instruments still ask for feedback on didactic instruction: Did the instructor present material that was clearly organized? How well did the lectures hold your attention? Did the instructor incorporate adequate visuals? If you regularly use active learning strategies, questions like these offer no feedback on the effectiveness of those approaches.

Besides getting feedback in areas relevant to your instruction, the process of putting an instrument together can be a developmental one. The collection of items on any instrument functions as a kind of operational definition of good teaching. So if you put the instrument together, letting yourself select those items that make the most sense and then look at the collection in its entirety, you’ve got your definition of effective instruction. Does it match your thinking about good teaching?

The best part of using an instrument you’ve created is that it makes the feedback a whole lot more meaningful. You take it more seriously and of course that increases the motivation to act on whatever it is you’ve discovered.

Is it hard to put together your own instrument? Not at all. This is feedback for you, so issues of reliability (relevant when faculty are being compared and personnel decisions are being made) are less important. The easiest way to start is by reviewing a collection of instruments and borrowing those items that seem particularly relevant or about which you’d like feedback. Books like John Centra’s Reflective Faculty Evaluation or Larry Braskamp and John Ory’s Assessing Faculty Work have appendices full of sample instruments. A collection of items often triggers the generation of your own items. The items do need to be worded in a consistent format.

There’s also a wide range of rating scales that can be used. It makes sense to pick one that confirms with whatever machine-scorable form is available so that you don’t have to tabulate the results by hand. If you want to go the electronic route, check out where you’ll find a variety of templates, questions, and rating scales. The survey itself can be completed entirely in the online environment, and, yes, they tabulate the results for you.

Too often the end-of-course rating process has become something done unto faculty. Using your own instrument is a way to take control of the process and make it work for you. That doesn’t mean you should flaunt or otherwise ignore the institutionally mandated process, but it does mean that there’s more to learn about your teaching and student learning than might be revealed by that summative process.

—Maryellen Weimer