Strategies for Better Course Evaluations

Strategies for better course evaluations

Student evaluations of teaching provide feedback regarding students’ perceptions of their learning and the classroom environment. Iowa State University uses the online Scantron Class Climate system with departmental administrators’ serving as the point-person for each unit’s student evaluation processes. There are several strategies to ensure constructive student feedback as well as encourage students’ response rate.

Encourage constructive student feedback

  • Before the course evaluation start date, explain to students how evaluations impact and enhance teaching and learning departmentally and college-wide.
  • Tell students directly how much you value their feedback. Let them know how you have incorporated past feedback into your courses. Assure them that all evaluations are anonymous and that instructors do not see results until after final grades are submitted.
  • Remind students that their feedback is anonymous but that you expect and would appreciate their respectful and constructive comments. Harmful, disrespectful personal statements are not in keeping with ISU’s Principles of Community. Provide students with example statements: helpful (i.e., the instructor’s posting of PowerPoint notes before the lesson helped me stay on track; the use of modules within canvas was helpful to my learning) versus unhelpful (i.e., the instructor wore the same shirt to every class).

Increase student response rates

  • Take class time for students to complete the end-of-course evaluations. (It is best practice for the instructor to excuse themselves from the room (physical or virtual during this process).
  • Students will receive automatic reminders to complete the student evaluations. A personal reminder from the instructor can send the message that the evaluations are significant to the instructor. Consult with your departmental administrator to learn when course evaluations open to students in your department.
  • Tell your students that you would like to get feedback from everyone. Set a percentage for class completion for the entire class to earn a small extra credit bonus. For example, tell the class that if they achieve 85% completion of the survey, they will receive a small number of extra credit points. Ask your departmental administrator to let you know the current response rate for your course(s) and inform the students of their completion rates.
  • Detail how the institution uses evaluation feedback. Many students don’t realize that their evaluations may be looked at by department chairs and by promotion and tenure committees campus-wide. Let them know that these data are valued and used by administrators.
  • Provide different ways for students to access the surveys: Students can access their surveys via the email they receive from course-evaluation@iastate.edu (view Examples of Surveys, Emails, and Reports webpage) or through the MySurveys tool in your Canvas course. See what the students see via the How to access my survey dashboard web guide. For students to access their survey dashboard, follow the steps in the Add the My Surveys tool to your Canvas course web guide. Note: For instructors at ISU, if you click on the My Surveys (course evaluation) tool in Canvas, it will display your surveys’ overall response rate. This access allows departments to manage local control when the evaluation reports are emailed to instructors (e.g., following grade submission). Questions? Ask the departmental administrator, view the Class Climate Subunit Administrator Directory (XLSX) in CyBox or your department chair.

For consideration for next time 

  • CELT recommends making class expectations explicit. Be sure your teaching strategies and assessments map onto your class learning objectives and course goals. See the Basic Course Design pageTips on Writing Course Goals/Learning Outcomes and Measurable Learning Objectives pageGuidelines for Student Outcomes Assessment at ISU page for more information.
  • Get formative feedback early. The end-of-course evaluation is a summative one. Although it aims to help us improve future courses, it does not enable us to respond to the students’ needs currently enrolled in the course. Formative feedback collected early in the course accomplishes that goal. Consider using a mid-semester assessment and visit the CELT’s Use formative course feedback from students website.
  • Consider suggestions from student evaluations of teaching for improving course delivery. CELT staff and faculty often hear from students that they want to know exactly where they stand grade-wise on any given day of the semester. College students have experienced criteria sheets and rubrics since elementary school, and they want the same in college. Use Canvas for sharing grades with students. Learn more via the Canvas@ISU site.

Support for course evaluations (Class Climate)

If you are a department chair or course evaluation administrator and need effective practices for online course evaluations, please see the Student Ratings of Teaching at ISU site or contact the following:

  • Specific ISU support (database, grouping courses, departmental admins, etc.), contact the IT Solution Center, email solution@iastate.edu or phone 515-294-4000.
  • Class Climate software and training resources, contact Scantron, email support@scantron.com or phone 1-800-445-3141.
  • Department specific questions, contact your primary administrator or department chair, via this admin directory in CyBox.

Adapted from:

  • Clement, M. (2012, July 30). Three steps to better course evaluations. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com.
  • Moore, S., & Kuol, N. (2005). A punitive tool or a valuable resource? Using student evaluations to enhance your teaching. In G. O’Neill, S. Moore, & B. McMulline (Eds)., Emerging issues in the practice of university learning and teaching (pp. 141-148). Dublin: All Ireland Society for Higher Education.