interpreting student comments on course evaluations July 2

Interpreting Student Comments on Course Evaluations

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When it comes to feedback about course quality, students and teachers aren’t necessarily using the same yardstick.  “How hard is it to get a good grade?” is a typical student concern and priority affecting course feedback.  If teachers, administrators, and students hold different expectations about the course and about learning in general, the academic process falls short of its potential. Viewing student feedback through alternative student lenses helps teachers better understand end-of-course feedback.  Careful consideration of student feedback helps teachers and academic leaders sensitively manage these divergent views, which leads to increased student satisfaction.  More importantly, viewing course feedback through a student lens should improve learning and retention as it fosters changes that align teachers’ and students’ expectations and beliefs about learning.

Below are three examples of common student comments followed by a suggestion of how we could better interpret what students are telling us. Discussion of the feedback and possible interpretations can lead to policy and instructional changes that facilitate closer alignment of expectations regarding rigor, assessment, and learning.

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encouraging student feedback May 3

Encouraging Student Evaluations Without Giving Extra Credit

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Gone are the days of handing out course evaluations during the last week of class and asking students to fill them out and place them in the envelope in the front of the room. Now, students are sent an email with a link or perhaps are given directions in their learning management system on how to fill out class evaluations. With evaluations now handled remotely, it’s no surprise that the percentage of students who complete them has shrunk considerably.

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mid-semester feedback February 8

A Collaborative Midterm Student Evaluation

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Can students collaborate on the feedback they provide faculty? How would that kind of input be collected? Both are legitimate questions, and both were answered by a group of marketing faculty who developed, implemented, and assessed the approach.

The first argument, supported by research cited in their article, establishes the value of collecting midterm feedback from students. Students tend to take the activity more seriously because they still have a vested interest in the course. The teachers have the rest of the course to make changes that could potentially improve their learning experiences. There’s also research that documents when midcourse feedback is collected and the results are discussed with students, end-of-course ratings improve. And they don’t improve because teachers are doing everything students recommend—sometimes a policy doesn’t need to be changed so much as it needs to be better explained.

The faculty involved in this project reasoned that having students collaborate on feedback for the instructor might have several advantages. It could increase student engagement with the process. Almost across the board now, there are concerns about the low response rates generated by online course evaluations. In addition, students don’t generally put much effort into the feedback they provide. In one study cited in the article, students self-reported taking an average of 2.5 minutes to complete their evaluations. Because doing an evaluation collaboratively was unique and happened midcourse, faculty thought that maybe students would get more involved in the process.

They also wondered if the quality of the feedback might be improved by the interactive exchange required to complete it. And along with that, they thought the process could increase students’ feelings of accountability by virtue of providing feedback in a public venue. Perhaps it would be harder for students to get away with making highly critical, personal comments.

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do students take course evaluations seriously January 12

Student Views of the Student Evaluation Processes

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Are students taking their end-of-course evaluation responsibilities seriously? Many institutions ask them to evaluate every course and to do so at a time when they’re busy with final assignments and stressed about upcoming exams. Response rates have also fallen at many places that now have students provide their feedback online. And who hasn’t gotten one or two undeserved low ratings—say, on a question about instructor availability when the instructor regularly came early to class, never missed a class, and faithfully kept office hours? Are students even reading the questions?


creating climate for learning. Male professor April 3, 2017

Creating a Climate for Learning: A Survey for Students and Teachers

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How well a class functions is the result of both what the teacher does and what the students do. The way we solicit course evaluation feedback reinforces students’ tendency to see the teacher as the one who’s responsible for whether it was a good class. Teachers do play a significant role, but they don’t make or break a class without a lot of student input. We need to be using evaluation activities that make clear that what happens in class is a shared responsibility.

Here’s a feedback activity that highlights the roles played by teachers and students. It can be configured in a variety of different ways—three options are recommended here.

  • Students can provide input on the conditions for learning created by the instructor.
  • The instructor can provide input on how well students are functioning as a community of learners.
  • The students can evaluate the course in terms of how it functions as a learning community.

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male professor reviews course evaluations March 8, 2017

What Can We Learn from End-of-Course Evaluations?

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No matter how much we debate the issue, end-of-course evaluations count. How much they count is a matter of perspective. They matter if you care about teaching. They frustrate you when you try to figure out what they mean. They haven’t changed; they are regularly administered at odds with research-recommended practices. And faculty aren’t happy with the feedback they provide. A survey (Brickman et al., 2016) of biology faculty members found that 41% of them (from a wide range of institutions) were not satisfied with the current official end-of-course student evaluations at their institutions, and another 46% were only satisfied “in some ways.”


students in lecture hall November 27, 2016

Student Reciprocal Evaluations

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Student course evaluations (SCEs) are now a standard feature in higher education. However, despite the effort and credence given to SCEs, in many cases students don’t seem to take them all that seriously. They have a general impression of the course and the instructor, and use that to gauge their answers to all the questions on the rating form.

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reflective learners October 31, 2016

Transforming Midterm Evaluations into a Metacognitive Pause

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Midterm evaluations often tip toward students’ (unexamined) likes and dislikes. By leveraging the weight of the midterm pause and inviting students to reflect on their development, midterm evaluations can become more learning-centered. Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn. This opportunity for students to learn about their learning yields valuable insights that not only inform instructors about the effects of our methods, but also ground students in their own learning processes, deepening their confidence in and commitment to their development in the second half of the course.


College professor speaking with students June 15, 2016

Benefits of Talking with Students about Mid-Course Evaluations

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It takes a certain amount of courage to talk with students about course evaluation results. I’m thinking here more about formative feedback the teacher solicits during the course, as opposed to what’s officially collected when it ends. Despite how vulnerable revealing results can make a teacher feel, there are some compelling reasons to have these conversations and a powerful collection of benefits that may result from doing so.