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Evaluation of Your Teaching

Tips for designing course evaluation forms

Teaching evaluations can serve as an important tool to assess your own teaching. Not only are they one way by which your colleagues and administration can decide whether to grant you tenure or not but evaluations also allow you to see the types of things you can improve upon.

Despite the idea that easy instructors who are nice might get better ratings, research tells us that student evaluations are in fact valid and reliable. While your personality and the ease of the course may influence some of the students’ perception of your teaching, information gathered through evaluations can be informative of the way you teach. If you want to maximize the benefits from evaluations, they should be designed well so that you can learn from the students’ comments.

In general, evaluations that only give you a numerical value are not helpful. So in designing your evaluations, you should encourage students to write out their thoughts. Below are a few tips for designing effective student evaluations:
  1. Make sure the students are evaluating on what you want them to assess. The point of the evaluation is for you to see the specific aspects you do well and the areas where you can improve. You should make it clear what aspects you are asking the students to evaluate. Listing the things you want the students to evaluate is useful. Some aspects might include: organization, clarity, knowledge of the instructor, etc. Be specific: 

 If you are looking for comments on your teaching, make sure they are not evaluating you on the content of the course. Often the two get conflated in students’ minds. One way to get around this may be to have two different evaluations, one for the course content and the other for teaching styles. Another option may be to state clearly at the top of the evaluation what specifically you are looking for.

e.g. Course content

Please comment on the course material. Did the course meet your expectations?
Please explain how your instructor could improve in helping students learn the materials covered in class.

  1. Define the numerical ratings for different categories. For each of the categories you ask them to evaluate, you should ask the students to rate your teaching. Instead of rating you with subjective descriptors such as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, etc, ask the students to rate a student on how much a student agrees with a statement:

 e.g. The material was presented in a clear manner that facilitated understanding
        1 – Strongly agree; 2 – agree; 3 – neutral; 4 – disagree; 5 – strongly disagree

Alternatively, you can ask the students to rate you on how your teaching compares with teaching of other instructors whom the students had before. Define the numbers:

e.g. The clarity of the way material was presented in class to facilitate understanding
        1 – best of all instructors I have had in other courses
        2 – top 25%
        3 – middle 50%
        4 – worst 25%
        5 – worst of all instructors I have had in other courses

  1. Leave plenty of space for student comments. Inevitably, students often want to finish the evaluations as fast as possible to study or get out in the sun and play, hence the rapid circling of ‘1’ for rating every single category. It is in our nature to feel that we need to fill space if there is a large gap. If you leave a large amount of open area and ask the students to comment, they will write something. Remember, numbers don’t mean much – comments are helpful. It may be useful to ask students to list a given number of things.

 e.g. List 3 things you did not like about the instruction.

  1. Make it anonymous Students should feel free to whatever they wish without fearing what they write could influence their grades. You should get a volunteer student to collect the evaluations from students.
  1. Leave enough time for evaluations. You should plan to have at least 20 minutes so that students do not feel rushed. It will also help to ask the students to think about comments before the day of evaluations so that they will have had some time to think about the course. Also it would be advisable to give the evaluations at least a week before the finals so that they are not worrying about wasting time before their finals. It should also not be done right after you returned major assignments/exams as this will bias their evaluations.
  1. Sample questions

1. My instructor communicates ideas and concepts clearly
2. My instructor demonstrates a thorough grasp of the course material
3. My instructor explains the material in an interesting manner
4. My instructor is well-organized
5. My instructor is accessible outside of class
6. My instructor encourages participation in class
7. The pace of the course is good
8. The lab contributed greatly to my understanding of class lectures
9. My instructor uses good examples in lecture
10. My instructor notices indications when students need help
11. My instructor uses class time efficiently
12. The objectives for each class was stated clearly at the beginning of each class
13. The instructor stimulated my interest in the subject.
14. The grading in the course was fair.
15. The instructor gave me helpful feedback in a timely manner.

  1. Have a mid-term assessment. Getting feedback at the end of the semester allows you to improve your teaching the next semester. However, wouldn’t you have loved to have known what students were thinking while you were taking the course? Plan to have a mid-term evaluation some time during the course after students have gotten to know how you teach. This can be done, for example, after the add-drop period. Again emphasize that you are using the evaluations to improve on your teaching and help students learn so that the students will write helpful, constructive comments. A full evaluation form may not be necessary at this point. Here are a number of methods for obtaining quick feedback:
    1. Index cards: You can ask for comments on what you are doing well and what you could improve upon. Alternatively, you could ask the students to list things that they are fuzzy on or things you would like to learn more about.
    1. Questionnaires: You can make a condensed version of the final evaluation form. Ask about the aspect of teaching you could reasonable improve upon during that semester. For example, you can ask about the pace, the amount and difficulty of the material taught (too much or too little). You could ask them to list topics or lectures that the students perceived to be good or bad. Another possibility is to distribute a piece of paper in class and ask the students to write one question they have.  
    1. Small group discussions: It may be useful to form groups of a small number of students to discuss issues that require improvements and ask a representative from each group to submit a summary.

 Depending on the amount of time available, you may wish to ask for student feedback several times throughout the semester.

 

References:
Davis, B. G.  (1993).  Tools for teaching.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers(12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin

"What Do They Know Anyway? 2. Making Evaluations Effective." Chem. Engr. Education, 27(1), 28-29 (Winter 1993).
http://www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/Columns/Eval2.html"
An article on how to design teaching evaluations.

Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC
http://ctl.unc.edu/pub.html
A resource useful to TAs, including, but not limited to, designing teaching evaluations 

Neil Fleming's 10 Evaluation Questions
http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/suppmat/fleming.htm

University of Eastern Kentucky links on evaluating teaching
http://www.tlc.eku.edu/tips/evaluating_teaching/
Provides a number of links to web pages on designing teaching evaluations

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