Encouraging Students to Provide Feedback via Course Evaluations
Conducting course evaluations online can be convenient for both instructors and students. However, using an online evaluation system, rather than written evaluations administered in class, can decrease the students’ response rate. Increasing the response rate for each class will increase the reliability of the evaluation results and will ensure that you gather the widest-possible range of responses. Encouraging students to take the evaluations can also provide an opportunity to demonstrate to them that you take their comments seriously, and that you value their ideas about teaching and learning.
Here are three steps you can take to encourage students to complete the evaluations:
Explain to your students why their feedback is important. If you show your students that you take the evaluation process seriously, they will take it seriously as well. As soon as the online evaluations are made available to students, take a few minutes during class to ask students to complete the evaluations. In addition, explain how you use each semester’s evaluation results to reflect on your teaching and to improve your courses. Give concrete examples of changes you have made, based on students’ feedback. These examples will help you communicate that you value your students’ thoughtful responses and opinions. While some students understand evaluations primarily as a means of informing other students about the course and the instructor, it is important to explain that instructors use the evaluations to better understand students’ perceptions and experiences, and to improve teaching and learning at the University.
Explain to your students that their responses are truly anonymous and that you will not see their responses until after grades are submitted. Some students might be hesitant to give honest feedback because they are worried that their responses could be traced back to them and that those responses could somehow affect their course grades. Assure your students that the Evals system is set up to protect their anonymity and to make sure that instructors do not have access to the results until well after the grading process is complete.
Take time during subsequent classes to remind students to complete the evaluations and to let them know that you are looking forward to reading their responses. The Evals Team will remind students via email to complete their course evaluations. You can also log-on to the Evals site to send reminder emails ONLY to those students who have not yet completed the evaluation. However, in-person reminders are likely to be more effective in increasing the response rate.
Incorporating Midterm Course Evaluations
The middle of the semester is an excellent time to ask your students to think about, and comment on, their perspectives on the course and on your teaching. Unlike end-of-semester course evaluations, midterm evaluations offer you the opportunity not only to make adjustments in your teaching “mid-stream,” but also to return to the class with thoughtful commentary on your students’ feedback and suggestions. Asking students to provide feedback at mid-semester makes it clear that you take their ideas seriously and that you are dedicated to improving the course and their learning.
While you should always encourage students to talk with you if they have concerns about the course, students often need another, “low-stakes” means of communicating with you about those concerns. Moreover, providing students a chance to respond to the course, in an anonymous format, will encourage them to communicate responses that they may not feel comfortable providing in person–including positive comments.
Asking for student comments on midterm course evaluations may also help you to identify and address issues related to classroom dynamics that students might otherwise be reluctant to mention, such as issues that arise when other students are not fully participating in group work or are disrupting class by arriving late, talking to their peers, or surfing the internet on their laptops. Even when students do not address these issues themselves, midterm is an excellent time to reinforce course policies and expectations related to these issues–without “calling out” individual students.
Incorporating midterm student evaluations is a 3-step process: designing the evaluation questionnaire, administering the evaluations, and responding to student comments.
1. Designing the Evaluation Questionnaire
Prepare an evaluation questionnaire that contains a few questions about the major aspects of the course (e.g. lectures, discussions, assignments, group work). Open-ended questions are best, and it is often useful to ask students to provide both a quantitative rating and comments. The following questionnaires are samples that you may use, or adapt to fit your own course. If you would like some advice about the questionnaire you have designed, please contact The Teaching Center. Remember, do not ask students to write their names on the evaluations. Maintaining anonymity will encourage your students to provide the honest and specific responses that will be useful to you.
2. Administering the Evaluations
Set aside 15-20 minutes during a class period to ask students to complete the evaluation questionnaires. When you distribute the questionnaires, tell students that you value their responses, which will help you to understand their perspectives on the course, your teaching, and the assignments. Encourage them to be specific in their comments.
3. Responding to the Evaluations
After you collect the evaluations, read the students’ comments carefully. Think about whether any of the comments might lead you to make changes in your teaching approach. Alternatively, you might consider whether any of the comments suggest that you need to communicate more clearly or explicitly with students about the major requirements of the course or about the purposes behind various class activities or assignments.
Make a brief list of comments that you would like to respond to during the next class. Discussing your response to a few of the students’ responses or suggestions will underscore to students that you do indeed take their comments seriously. For example, if students indicate that they find it hard to keep up with the pace of the lecture, you might tell them steps you are taking to adjust the pace (e.g., taking time to reinforce and review important points in the lecture, or using the chalkboard rather than PowerPoint slides to present visual information).
You might also respond to student suggestions with an explanation of why you have decided NOT to make any adjustments. For example, a student in your discussion class might comment, “We should not have to raise our hands in a small class like this.” You might want to mention this suggestion in class, and note that you can see some rationale for doing away with the practice of hand-raising, but then explain that you want to maintain this practice to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate (not just those students who are comfortable jumping into a discussion without raising their hands).
Of course, how you respond is up to you. The important point is to make clear that you have read and devoted thought to the students’ comments. Doing so will go a long way toward encouraging students to communicate with you, or your course assistants, about the course.
At the end of the semester, revisit the midterm evaluations, along with the end-of-semester course evaluations, to remind yourself of the feedback students provided at each stage. Then, write a few notes to yourself about specific aspects of the feedback that you will want to remember the next time that you teach.
Templates for Quick Student Feedback
Let us help you garner quick and useful student feedback about your course with our easy-to-use templates. Visit Templates for Quick Student Feedback to explore options for garnering student feedback in Canvas, Google Forms, or Qualtrics.