On Student Evaluations

It’s that time of year again—student evaluations.  In colleges and universities, students are evaluating their professors and the classes they’ve taken.

This is an essential part of quality control and offers students an opportunity to help professors evaluate their performance and improve their classes.

Some thoughts on making the most of this exercise:

First, when making comments about a class, be specific.  If an aspect of the course was helpful, note how it was helpful and how it enhanced learning.  If parts of the course were unhelpful, note how and why.  If you can, cite a specific example or two.

Second, make practical suggestions.  If something about the course needs improvement, do you have a thought about how that might happen?  Feel free to offer some ideas.  Many of us are interested in concrete ways our classes can be made more effective.

Third, don’t be mean.  Professors are people, and sarcasm, rudeness, and unkindness can be tremendously hurtful.  Positive comments don’t erase the one or two harsh comments we receive and those tend to be the ones that stick with us.  And because comments are anonymous, we wonder who would have written such a thing and why.  Be kind.

Fourth, if you had a bad experience in a class, write out your experience plainly and directly.  Record why it was a bad experience and what might be done to change things in the future.

Fifth, on the other hand, if you had a good experience, be plain and direct about it.  Take a moment to note why it was a fruitful experience, beyond, “this class was great!”  Those comments are certainly positive, but they don’t really affirm why the course worked well.

Sixth, envision yourself blessing future generations of students who will take the course.  At the end of the semester, everyone is tired and worn out and it’s easy to blow off evaluating a course thoughtfully.  Resist that temptation and see this as a great opportunity to serve your professor and fellow students.

4 thoughts on “On Student Evaluations

  1. Andrew T.

    It must be difficult to have one’s profession driven like the waves of the sea, tossed hither and thither by the wind of whimsical opinions of peers and students alike.

    Your recommendations are excellent – but still opinions remain as unstable as air.

    1. timgombis

      It’s good for students to have an avenue for feedback and input into their education. It’s a means of communication that can go badly, but it can be used for much good, too.

  2. Joel L.

    Good post. As this is a post about evaluations, I will give my humble opinion on this post 🙂

    In addition to the standardized evaluation the school makes students take, you should make your own. Most students blow off the school’s evaluation – they want the semester to be done, honestly. One of favorite professors from undergrad had students fill out his own evaluation in addition to the school’s evaluation. I think more students would be inclined to give their opinion about what helped, what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy, what was detrimental, etc., if it wasn’t tied to a standardized “fill in the bubbles” scantron evaluation with a small section at the end for comments. When students see the desire of a professor to improve a course, they are more than willing (at least in my experience) to help in kindness.

    1. timgombis

      Thanks, Joel. I’ve done those sorts of evaluations in the past, sometimes mid-semester and sometimes at the end. I may have to revive the practice.

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