College professors sometimes respond with frustration to these two words. Students have the opportunity to complete an evaluation in all or almost all of their courses each semester. Results from these evaluations do carry significance, especially in institutions with a first devotion to teaching.
Results from these are, of course, not without problems. Occasionally, a professor will get a group of students that is just set on writing negative comments. (The potential for this seems greatest in dual credit classes.) Likewise, sometimes students use evaluations to “get revenge” after they earned a lower grade, for example. There are some professors too who get very positive evaluations only because they give everyone an “A.”
Nonetheless, such evaluations, especially written comments, have positive and useful purposes. First and foremost, they allow students to have a voice in how their educational experience is going. They allow professors and administrators to see who is an effective teacher. They give an insight as to what happens in the classroom on an everyday basis. And, they allow good teachers the opportunity to see ways to possibly change and reassurance that they are effective teachers.
In my classes, I like to do a midterm evaluation. This way there is an opportunity to see if anything needs to be or can be adjusted before the end of the semester. Click here to see the questions and results from the midterm evaluation for my United States History Since 1877 course this semester. (Other evaluations can be found here.) There were 48 students enrolled, 5 dropped, and 34 took the evaluation.
Student comments on evaluations are, for sure, interesting. In places they show how a few students do not necessarily understand the full purpose of learning and ways to effectively do this, such as the student of mine who suggested to eliminate the writing assignments and reduce the weight of the quizzes. In other places, a few of the comments make me wonder what class they were attending! Such as the student who said we should have talked about the Harlem Renaissance (which we spent a good 20-25 minutes on) and the Holocaust (over an hour on this topic) or the student who said the PowerPoint Presentations were least interesting (there haven’t been any PowerPoint Presentations). Group work is always an odd ball one – they either love it or hate it.
Overall, however, they show how devoted the students are to learning and how much they are paying attention. They took time to write careful and thoughtful comments. Based on the surprisingly kind and generous feedback on the midterm evaluation, I plan to keep doing things basically the same.
So, my dear readers, what do you think about course evaluations? Would love to hear perspectives from all the voices in academia.
Please be sure and check out my other articles published here and Inside Higher Ed. I have articles about teaching aimed at students and professors generally and more specifically for those in History or Student Success courses.