Gathering Student Feedback About Your Teaching
Gathering feedback from students can be an important step towards improving your teaching. Rather than being used solely for faculty reviews, student feedback should be viewed as one of many data points that can inform teaching (KSU faculty handbook, Section 2.5) and can be solicited at multiple times during the semester.
Visit the links below to learn more about research-based best practices for gathering feedback from your students, or click here for more information on other ways CETL can help you document your teaching effectiveness for the purposes of self-reflection and growth.
How can I increase my course evaluation response rates?
In order to have meaningful data from which to draw conclusions, the student response rate needs to be as high as possible. Click here for a blog post from CETL Associate Director Hillary Steiner on how to increase your response rate for student course evaluations. Tips for instructors include:
- Provide assurance that you will use feedback. Many students do not know how their feedback will be used. Assure them that you care about improving your teaching, help them understand what kind of feedback is most useful, and provide specific examples of how you have used feedback in the past. Some studies show that this is the single biggest influence on whether students will complete course evaluations (Hoel & Dahl, 2019).
- Provide frequent reminders. Remind students frequently in class and through D2L about evaluation instructions and completion dates.
- Make the evaluation easy for students to find. Place visible links in your syllabus and in multiple places on D2L. Ensure that the links are current and operational.
- In a synchronous or in-person class, provide time during the class session to complete the evaluation. Hoel and Dahl (2019) found that students were more motivated to complete a course evaluation when given time during the regular class period to do so.
- Provide assurance of confidentiality. Many students may be fearful that their responses can be identified. Assure them that instructors have no way of linking responses to individual students.
Hoel, A., & Dahl, T.I. (2019). Why bother? Student motivation to participate in student evaluations of teaching. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 44(3), 361-378.
How can I solicit additional feedback from students outside of the course evaluation system?
Soliciting mid-semester feedback from your students is an excellent "just-in-time" method to improve your teaching and shows students you are responsive to their needs. Click here for a blog post from CETL Educational Specialist Mandy McGrew on soliciting mid-semester feedback. The University of Georgia Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a short feedback form for these purposes that you may find helpful as you build your own.
Below are some additional best practices in gathering course feedback from your students at any time of year, adapted from information posted by the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, and the University of Georgia.
- Consider building and distributing your feedback survey via Qualtrics so students can respond anonymously. A quick guide to Qualtrics appears here.
- Ensure that the purpose for gathering feedback is clearly stated at the beginning of the evaluation.
- Consider including a statement like the following, recommended by the University of
Georgia CTL during the Spring 2020 semester:
“Student evaluations of teaching play an important role in the review of faculty. Your opinions influence the review of instructors that takes place every year. We recognize that student evaluations of teaching are often influenced by students’ unconscious and unintentional biases about the personal characteristics of the instructor. Further, the added stress and disruption caused by our move to virtual instruction may further enhance this unintended bias. As you fill out this course evaluation, please focus on the quality of instruction and the content of the course, while generously assuming that your instructor has done what they can during these unusual weeks.” (University of Georgia CTL)
- Decide on specific areas for which you’d like feedback, and ensure the questions reflect that specificity. This is especially important with open-ended questions, as students can sometimes get off topic in their writing when they are asked to respond to more general questions.
- Make sure the questions are clear—avoid double-barreled questions that ask students to provide feedback on two different things.
- Avoid leading or biased questions.
- Offer both closed- and open-ended questions.
- Use an appropriate and consistent scale of measurement (e.g., four points, directionally consistent, where the first choice is the lowest point and the last choice is the highest), and allow for a N/A option.
- Ensure that the entire survey can be completed thoughtfully in less than 15 minutes
How can I incorporate self-reflection to inform my teaching?
Metacognitive and self-reflective teaching is an approach that all instructors can find beneficial for improving their teaching. Planning, monitoring, and evaluating one's own teaching can bring new insight into our areas of strength as well as our pedagogical stumbling blocks. Click here for research-based information about metacognitive instruction.
The University of Georgia Center for Teaching and Learning suggests the following prompts for self-reflective teaching during the time of the COVID-19 disruption:
- What did I do as an instructor to reduce student apprehension and anxiety during this time of disruption? What might I do more of next time?
- Which course modifications were most/least successful in terms of my ability to:
a). maintain student engagement in their learning, b). effectively identify student progress and barriers to learning along the way, and c)effectively assess student learning for their final grade?
- What (specifically) worked well?
- What unexpected student, instructor, and/or TA needs did I encounter? What did I learn from those experiences?
- What (if anything) might I do differently in the future to build flexibility into my course, in case of other (hopefully less significant) disruptions to my teaching?
- Given my students’ experience in my course this semester, what adjustments or special considerations should be made for AY2020-21 courses? For example, is there an anticipated impact on student readiness for the next course in a specific sequence?
To learn more about the practice of self-reflection, we recommend the book Critically Reflective Teaching by Stephen Brookfield (2017).
In addition to reflective practice, the KSU faculty handbook (Section 2.5) recommends including additional criteria for assessing teaching effectiveness, including pedagogical skills, professionalism, assessment of student learning, and professional development.
How can instructors best interpret student course evaluation feedback?
Course evaluations represent an excellent source of data for teaching improvement; however, they can also feel intensely personal. Instructors should keep in mind that course evaluations represent student perceptions. They are not faculty evaluations or measures of student learning. Instructors should also be aware of potential bias in students' responses. Click here for a blog post by CETL Executive Director Michele DiPietro on the relationship between student evaluations and faculty diversity.
When interpreting student feedback data, instructors should also avoid comparing themselves to other faculty; instead, they should look for patterns in their evaluations across multiple semesters, paying special attention to frequencies rather than means. Click here for a blog post by former CETL Associate Director Dr. Tom Pusateri on why mean ratings may not be the best source of information.
Finally, click here for an excellent guide created by Vanderbilt University to assist you in interpreting your course evaluations and using them to document your teaching effectiveness.
How can reviewers (e.g., chairs, deans, department committees) best interpret student course evaluation feedback for review purposes?
Because course evaluations are used by reviewers to make important decisions regarding promotion and tenure, they should be interpreted appropriately and with caution. Deans, department chairs, and promotion and tenure committee members should keep the following in mind while conducting reviews:
- Course evaluations represent student perceptions. Course evaluations are not faculty evaluations or measures of student learning.
- Reviewers should look for patterns, and examine distributions rather than means, which are sensitive to outlier ratings. Course evaluation data usually do not conform to a bell curve, and means are not useful for data that are not normally distributed.
- Ideally, course evaluations should be reviewed in conjunction with other measures of teaching (peer or other observations, course materials, teaching portfolios, evidence of scholarly teaching). See Benton (2018) for recommendations.
- A complete history of a faculty member’s ratings should be considered rather than an averaged score from all their classes. Even good teachers can have an "off" semester.
- Small differences between mean scores among semesters are common and don’t mean much.
- To reduce the effect of bias (e.g., Mitchell & Martin, 2018), avoid comparing faculty to each other. Also avoid comparing faculty to unit means. If the department has many good teachers, there will be some good teachers who will fall below the artificially high mean.
- Focus on common ratings and comments rather than emphasizing outliers. Contradictory comments are not unusual, and occur in most groups of ratings. If the distribution of ratings is bell-shaped or lower ratings dominate, there may be a problem.
- Instructors should always be given the opportunity to address problems, and supervisors should be ready to suggest solutions. For example, reviewers can reassure the instructor that “behaviors practiced by excellent teachers can be learned” (Linse, 2017, p. 96). Remind faculty that they can get support through CETL, or consider having the them work with a mentor, especially if the problems seem to be a pattern. Finally, follow up at a later date to see how the instructor's teaching methods have changed.
Benton, S. L. (2018). IDEA Paper #69: Best practices in the evaluation of teaching. Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Center.
Linse, A.R. (2017). Interpreting and using student ratings data: Guidance for faculty serving as administrators and on evaluation committees. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 54, 94-106.
Mitchell, K., & Martin, J. (2018). Gender Bias in Student Evaluations. PS: Political Science & Politics, 51(3), 648-652.