Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Early Thirsty: Evaluations

I know that we've talked about evaluations before, but my question is a little different.

As the end of term approaches, I'm getting emails reminding me that course evaluations are now available (my university does it all online, which I like) and this also means that the students are getting them as well. Because they are online, instead of in class, I usually only get anywhere from 5 to 10 per class (10 being on the very high, not often side). I've actually gotten some helpful feedback from these in the past (mixed in, and typically outnumbered by stupid complaints, of course) and am wrestling with how to approach them this term. I usually don't address the evaluations in class (honestly, usually I just delete the emails and forget about them since this is such a busy time in the semester) but because I've gotten helpful stuff I really would like some feedback.

I've also considered doing my own, still anonymous survey that asks specific questions about my courses (the university's are, as predictable, very generic) through one of those free, online survery sites.

So, my questions are:

1. Do you encourage students to fill out your evaluations? (This assumes that they are optional, of course). If so, how?

2. Have you ever done your own personalized evaluations? Were they worth the time?


  1. Our crap-tastic instructional software allows us to monitor the number of students who provide feedback. It doesn't tell us WHO the students are, just how many responses there have been.

    I tell students that they will receive (collectively) two extra-credit points on the final exam if 80% of the class participates.

    Then I make the exam two points harder than normal.

    I figure it's a positive use of peer pressure.

  2. Number 1: Fugno. I give them as much time at the end of a Friday class as I deem necessary for this horse hockey.

    Number 2: That's easy. I am great and wonderful, give me all the money and let me do everything I want.

  3. 1. Yes, if only because our evaluations *do* count for salary review and retention/promotion, and a larger number of responses can help dilute the effect of one or two very unhappy students who decide to give me straight 0s or 1s. This doesn't happen frequently, but the combination of a low response rate and one or two unhappy students giving me far lower "grades" than I gave them -- we're usually talking "A students" who refuse to accept my policy, clearly stated on the syllabus, that fully satisfactory work gets a B, while As are reserved for work that is clearly above average -- is nearly always the explanation for my ending up with averages in the 3.5-4 range, which at my university are considered problematic, for a particular section.

    2. I haven't, but I probably should. I do encourage them to contribute written comments (either on the back of the form or on the online form; we're in transition, with all-f2f classes still using paper forms, and classes that are wholly or partly online using the online version). And I do read those comments, and apply the actually-useful ones (which I'd guess make up about 25% of the whole) to my planning for future classes.

  4. You know, the best feedback I've gotten is the stuff the University doesn't see.

    Any time I use a new tactic, I give my students a mid-semester surveymonkey survey to give me some feedback on how the new project/new rubric/new textbook is working out. Since they know it isn't official, only for my benefit, they are a lot more engaging.

    It's still anonymous and I make a big deal about saying in class how many surveys have been completed so far, which brings the peer pressure for them to finish up. I usually have 3 or 4 people who avoid doing it, but it's the most productive eval every single time.

  5. I've graded the last exam by the time that I could hand out exams. I hand out the evaluations immediately afterwards if they did good or wait until the last day if they did bad. The bad students won't show up on the last day of class so that filters out some poor evals.

    It's all about caring - if you can fake that, then you're in good shape. Talk to them about how you hope to receive constructive feedback, including criticisms. Cite (or make up) an example of how previous students' evals helped improve your teaching (tell them, "yes, this class used to be even worse"). Adding your own questions makes the point that you are really interested in what they say.

    I also tell them what should not be included in their evals: I can't change the class time, the textbook, the lab or just give everybody A's. By limiting the topics they can complain about, I avoid some undeserved poor evals.

  6. We have electronic evaluations as well, and I am not sure I like it. But that is a story for another day. What I do to avoid the very low response rate (sometimes from one of my fans, but when it is a hater....that really sucks because only the 'average' rating gets put in my promotion file!) is take the whole class down to the computer lab and stand there while they do it. Does this make me an evaluation whore? I am not sure! But I see it as doing what needs to be done.

    Of course, I don't look at their screens or anything, so they could be looking at whatever porn makes it past the IT filters, who knows? But I also take BB's advice above and tell them that I care about what they think, that they should answer as honestly as possible, and that this is their big chance to improve the course for future students. Ben, I love your line about "yes, this class used to be even worse!" Hahahaha! I'm using that next week when I do this!

    I am applying for my last promotion this year. After that I'll do my own evals----they are definitely more useful but I notice that when I do that a LOT fewer of my students will fill out the electronic version, even WITH me taking them to the computer lab. They just don't like doing anything twice, even if the two evaluations (mine and the college's) are very different.

  7. 1. Yes, and I give some small credit to encourage people to do it in my service courses. Usually only those with strong feelings fill out the forms voluntarily, which means complainers and only a few keeners. Encouraging everyone balances out the statistics.

    2. Of course - but you're best doing it around mid-term. This allows you to make small changes to the class based on responses. Sometimes this can be something trivial and inconsequential, which helps their mood. Sometimes something is genuinely not working, and needs to be replaced.

  8. 1) yes, I remind them regularly once the online system opens up, and as Ben suggested make sure to sound enthusiastic and positive about their comments.

    2) yes, usually mid-term so that I can actually make changes for THEM, not just for those who take the course next year (which then tends to improve my final evals as well). As Bella says, having mine plus official ones at the same time messes up the return rate.

  9. I do a very general eval (open-ended questions, such as "how do you think the class is going so far?""was the first test too hard/too easy?") in the middle of the semester, and I review the feedback with the whole class. The eval is done on paper with me in the room so they feel compelled to say something. Such evals are always overwhelmingly positive, but now and then someone has a really good suggestion, and then I can incorporate it before the semester is over. The end-of-the-semester evals are bullshit and everyone knows it. They are just there for lazy administrators.

  10. I actually don't use anonymous evaluations. Either as a genuine assignment or just as a "tack on" worth nothing, I ask my students to give me some feedback. I frame the questions variously. Sometimes, I ask them to describe what they feel is most important in the class. Sometimes I ask them to describe what they like most and least. Sometimes I ask them to propose an assignment for the future. I've asked them to suggest ways to improve the course.

    Surprisingly, given that names are attached, they are relatively candid. I also gain insight into individual students and how their minds work, always interesting after forming an impression through grading all semester. The format gives students the space and opportunity to say something meaningful, and they know I will read them (unlike their perception of our online systems). And this system usually invites some metacognition on their part since it asks them to think more about the course and less about my personality. I also very very rarely have to suffer the (exceedingly rare in any event) student who'd like to have at me with a pair of hot pliers.

  11. 1. Our evaluations are optional only to the extent the students can choose not to come to class on evaluation day (and they never know for sure what day that will be) or they simply choose not to fill it out even if they are present.

    2. I've done my own evaluations, sometimes mid-term, sometimes at the end, most of the time both. As previously mentioned, midterm evals let you make adjustments if necessary. I did these in the spring with wonderful success. I did not do them this fall because I could tell how my classes were going and what changes needed to be made without the need for evals. I will do my own evaluation at the end of the current term, though. It's really the only way to get answers to the questions that *I* have rather than the meaningless questions on the school's eval.

  12. I don't know what the FTs do, but the PTs have to do evals at least once a year and summarize the results, which contain both scantron scores and written comments. An in-class observer shows up now and then, depending on what part of the cycle you are in, which depends on when you were hired.
    We have to do this in order to maintain rehire rights for PTs. You give to get in negotiations, after all.

  13. 1. I hand out evaluations because it's mandatory.

    2. I sometimes write up surveys and hand them out, with no student names on them, asking them about a variety of aspects from the course, and some questions about their own opinion of their own levels of understanding. They're really interesting to read.

    Admission: I sometimes keep the evals. in my bag and wait until a class when my nastiest students are missing. Then I hand out the evals. If it's a matter of me vs. them, I choose ME.


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