Best Practices for Students and How-to Complete the Evals

As students, you have both the right and the responsibility to provide feedback to instructors and administrators. CELT (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) is an advocate for the Student Evaluation of Teaching providing resources, information, and recommended practices for instructors, and departments.

During the 2011 fall semester Scantron’s Class Climate, the online course/instructor evaluation system, was used for the Student Evaluation of Teaching by a majority of Iowa State departments. Class Climate is used to collect Iowa State University’s course/instructor evaluation data from students. An effective departmental practice is that there should be a minimum of five (5) registered students in a course required to protect anonymity. Please contact the Course Evaluation Administrator in your department for additional information.

Why complete evaluations?

Who reads the results?

Providing feedback

Making the most of open ended comments

How to complete

How to access My Survey Dashboard

Why complete evaluations?

Mid and end-of-semester evaluations are an important mode of communication about the quality of courses and teaching that you experience. Course evaluations have the potential to improve courses and teaching, benefiting future students who will take those courses. However, for course/instructor evaluations to be useful, students have to take the time to complete them. Course evaluations help in these ways:

  • They provide instructors with constructive feedback to improve courses for future students.
  • They help instructors improve their teaching through constructive criticism and feedback.
  • They provide important feedback to Teaching Assistants which is indispensable in helping them improve their teaching effectiveness as they begin their teaching careers;
  • They support an ongoing dialogue about teaching between instructors and administrators, including positive reinforcement and identification of areas in need of improvement.

Who reads the results?

Students often express skepticism about the benefits of completing course evaluations. Does anyone read them? Do they actually make a difference?

  • The results are confidential to the instructor and the Chair; they are the only ones who review the results unless the instructor gives permission.
  • The information from end-of-course evaluations is considered when evaluating professors’ teaching for purposes of merit, reappointment, tenure and promotion.
  • The more students who fill out course evaluations, the more seriously the constructive feedback is taken by both instructors and administrators.

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Providing feedback

Feedback is a vital part of any learning process, as much for instructors as it is for students. Thus, your feedback is a necessary part of the process for teachers to improve their teaching. However, for teachers to take feedback seriously and work on improving their teaching, the criticisms must be constructive. Constructive feedback from students is a valuable resource for improving teaching.[1] The feedback should be specific, focused and respectful and address aspects of the course and teaching that are positive as well as those which need improvement.

  1. For many of you, this may be the first time that you are completing course evaluations. When you are providing feedback, you may be comparing the instructor to other instructors, either consciously or unconsciously. When you are comparing, remember that the comparison group should be other instructors and courses at Iowa State University.
  2. Before you begin, verify the name of the instructor you are providing feedback for in the evaluation. It is important for you to provide effective feedback to the right instructor and course.
  3. You may notice that there may be a “Not applicable” option available. Please choose this when the question is not relevant for your course or instructor. You should choose the midpoint (3) when you feel your response is really in between the two endpoints.
  4. While obviously the quality of courses and teaching is highly interdependent, the questions have been designed to explicitly address the course or the instructor. It is important for you to direct your constructive feedback appropriately.

Are my responses anonymous?

  • All student responses are anonymous; this includes the numerical results and the written comments. Your responses are not linked to your Net-ID or ID number.
  • To help with anonymity, we encourage departmental administrators to:
    • Not send out the results until after the midterm or final grades for the course have been submitted.
    • Not evaluate courses that have fewer than 5-8 graded students registered (anonymity cannot be assured).
  • You may contact the departmental course evaluation administrator to clarify any questions about departmental procedures for course evaluations, visit the Course Evaluation Administrator Directory website.

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Making the most of open ended comments

  1. Be specific and provide examples when commenting on the course or the instructor.
  2. Focus on observable behaviors of the instructor or on specific aspects of the course. Describe the situation you are commenting on. For example, “we were really able to listen in class” leaves the reader wondering what the instructor did to allow for this. A more helpful comment may be, “It was great that the PowerPoint presentations were put online, that way you can follow in class and not have to worry about frantically take down notes and worry about not getting everything”.
  3. Please ensure that your comments are respectful; derogatory comments or criticisms on the basis of race, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, sex, marital status, disability, or status as a U.S. veteran are not appropriate.
  4. Avoid personalization or emotional comments instead, describe actual incidents. For example, commenting that, “The professor is sarcastic at times during lectures, which makes learning difficult and confusing” is more helpful than commenting that the instructor is a “sarcastic loudmouth”.
  5. Describe how the instructor’s behavior or elements of the course affect you. Describing how a situation makes you feel offers the reader a different perspective. For example, “I found the final exam fair, but really long. I knew all the material but really struggled to finish the exam in time. I felt very stressed by the time pressure and may not have performed my best.” This allows the instructor to gain a better understanding of the situation as opposed to “the exam was unfair”.
  6. Offer alternative solutions or suggestions to critiques of the instructor or the course. For example, “The course could be recorded which would help with studying, I could easily just go back and listen to that part of the class” is very helpful to the instructor when planning the course design for the following year.
  7. Provide both positive and negative comments about the instructor or the course that are formative. Formative comments offer specific reasons for judgment. These are very helpful as they inform the instructor of what you suggest be kept or changed.[4]While comments regarding what needs to change may come more readily, it is just as helpful to remind the instructor about what went well.
  8. If your course had Teaching Assistants, you may be given the opportunity to provide feedback to them. Please take the time to provide constructive comments about strengths and areas for improvement. Feedback early in their teaching careers will be instrumental in helping them become great educators.

Categories of comments

There are comment boxes associated with many questions; in these cases please try to target your comments to the specific issue addressed in the question. In other cases, there are comment boxes that are more general in scope. Thinking of the following categories when completing the questionnaires may help you organize your thoughts:

  • Overall (Course or Instructor)
  • Clarity & Difficulty
  • Organization & Structure
  • Teaching Strategies
  • Assignments
  • Interest or Motivation
  • Outside of Classroom Communications
  • Personal Traits
  • Physical Environment

Area of responsibility

While the instructor clearly has influence and control over many of the factors that influence the quality of a course and the teaching, in many instances that influence is shared with the students and/or the administrators. By thinking about who is in a position to change problem areas—or maintain successful practices—it can help you frame your comments usefully. When possible, make suggestions from the student perspective as to actions that the instructor or administrators could take to help improve the situation.

Personal traits of the instructor

Comments about the personal traits (for example, accent or apparent unfriendliness) of the instructor often elicit strong emotions and should be made with sensitivity. Focus your constructive comments on behaviors that can be improved. Also, describe the impact on your learning—this will help the instructor improve the learning experience. For example, the comment, “The professor was often sarcastic” on its own does not tell the instructor what the impact was. However, “The professor was often sarcastic which made me not want to ask questions or participate in discussions” makes it clear to the instructor that there is a real impact on the students’ learning experience.

How to complete the course evaluations

You will receive an email for each course evaluation from or you may access the My Survey Dashboard in Canvas.

  1. Completing the course evaluations will take approximately 5–10 minutes per course.
  2. Secure online access to complete course evaluations is available 24/7 during the evaluation period. The regular evaluation period is approximately the last three weeks of a semester, ending the day before the start of the finals week. Some departments choose to extend the evaluation period to no later than the last day of finals week. Courses on intensive schedules may have customized availability dates. In all cases, you will receive email reminders if you have outstanding evaluations.
  3. Each course evaluation questionnaire may contain a maximum of 12–40 questions. There is a combination of numerical ratings and open-ended questions. You can choose which questions to answer and comments are welcomed and encouraged.
  4. Course evaluations are administered at the departmental or college level. Departmental course evaluation administrators prefer to not re-open evaluations after an evaluation period has closed because they are preparing the reports for the instructors. The departmental course evaluation administrators will work with Departmental Chairs to send out results to instructors once instructors have submitted their final course grades to the Office of the Registrar. You may always provide feedback for your instructors and classes directly by sending an email or a letter to the department; however, your anonymity will be lost.

How to access My Survey Dashboard

The My Survey Dashboard allows you to see what surveys you have successfully submitted and access surveys that are open. Closed surveys will no longer display on the dashboard.

Additionally, if you are seeking confirmation that you have completed a survey the departmental administrator may create a participation tracking report and send it directly to your instructor. Please note that this method is completely anonymous and merely shows whether or not you submitted the survey. To contact the departmental Course Evaluation Administrator, visit the Course Evaluation Administrator Directory website.

Students may access the My Survey Dashboard by visiting a course in Canvas.

  1. Go to a course in Canvas
  2. Click on the My Surveys link on the course menu (left). Note: If you are unable to access this please email and we will help the instructor add it to their course.
    Canvas My Survey Dashboard is on the left menu
  3. The My Surveys Dashboard will open and reveal which surveys are active and which have been submitted.

View in My Survey Dashboard

My Survey Dashboard will show the status of the evaluations associated with your email. Each survey provides a description of the survey, the questionnaire name, and the three status types:

  1. Successfully submitted surveys is represented by the word “Submitted” with a green check mark
  2. Surveys with a deadline is represented with a timeline for when the survey will close and a red arrow pointing right. You may access the survey using the
  3. Surveys that are open continuously is represented by a green arrow pointing right
    Course Evaluation Status
  4. You may do a screenshot for a proof of completion or contact the Course Evaluation Administrator in your department for assistance. To locate your course evaluation administrator visit Course Evaluation Administrator Directory website.

This work is derivative of the Winer, L., Di Genova, L., Vungoc, P.-A., & Talsma, S. (2012). Course evaluations: Information for students. Montreal: Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University. Under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License

[1] Ory, J. & Braskamp, L. (1981). Faculty perceptions of the quality of three types of evaluative information. Research in Higher Education, 15(3), p. 271–282.

[3] Adapted from: Svinicki, M.D. (2001). Encouraging your students to give feedback. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 87, 17–24.

[4] Donovan, J., Mader, C., & Shinsky, J. (2010). Constructive student feedback: Online vs. traditional course evaluations. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(3), p. 283–296.

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