Monday, December 21, 2015

Student Comments and End-of-Course Evals: The Battle

Now that courses are finished for the semester, it’s time to attempt to decipher the meaning behind the vague student comments that are left for you on their end-of-course evaluations.  This is by no means a simple task, as sometimes these comments can leave you left wondering, “Just what in the world are they trying to say?  Why don’t they write more specific things?”

The way I see it, you receive such vague comments for two big reasons.  1) Students are in the middle of wrapping up their semester, something that usually means late hours, more papers, tests, and projects to prepare for, and a constant busy mind.  This can distract them from writing things that are truly meaningful since they are often less concerned with the state of their evaluation than they are with their own ever-growing to-do list inside of their heads.  2) Students often don’t believe that evaluations are taken all that seriously among professors.  Not only is this because they asked to complete them for every class they are enrolled in, but also because they won’t be witnessing any changes or differences their evaluations make, as most students won’t be in your class again after the semester is over.

Several common things that students tend to comment on in their vague, clipped way are: organization, fairness, and what was most difficult about the course.  These seem pretty straightforward as far as answers go, but what is a professor to do with a comment like “disorganized” when they can’t think of a single time they demonstrated disorganization?

As it turns out according to a study performed by Carol Lauer, student and instructor definitions of these terms are actually different.  For example, nearly one third of the faculty surveyed by Lauer stated that they believed “disorganized” to reference a teacher who changes or doesn’t follow their syllabus.  When surveying a group of students on the same term, only 11% of them said they agreed that’s what the term meant to them.  Instead, students stated the term “disorganized” could mean a variety of things including lack of preparedness by the instructor, lack of lesson plan, and not returning work in a reasonable amount of time.

The same disparity can be seen for the phrase “not fair.”  To instructors, this term means an issue in grading, but to students, it means a teacher who doesn’t treat all students equally.

With all of this said, there are three things to consider.

  1. How you communicate the impact of teaching policies and practices on efforts to learn with your students.  Keeping this conversation an ongoing effort in your course will essentially allow students to see a willingness on your end to make their learning experience the best possible.
  2. The use of mid-term evaluations (facilitated by your friendly CETL team) for your classes in the future.  Implementing mid-term evals is a good way to show students the efforts you are making to improve your course in the most efficient ways possible.
  3. Asking your students to be as specific as possible before they write their end-of-course evaluations.  Hearing this request in person rather than reading it on the form can help students to give more attention to what they are writing and how they are writing it. 
Tip Provided By: Jessica Moser
Adapted from Magna Publications 

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