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Jane

I think it's not a bad idea to encourage students to respond. Often, students don't think about evaluations as a *tool* that the professor can use to figure out what went well and what could go better next time. My students are often surprised when I tell them (and show them) how I use evaluations to revise my courses, either after the fact or mid-stream in the case of midterm evaluations. That still won't get rid of the mean students who hate your hair or your clothes or whatever, but it may encourage more of those in the middle to respond.

As far as dealing with the nasties, it *is* tough. One strategy I use is to see if there's anything redeeming at all in the nasty comments--once the hurtful words are stripped away, does the student have a good point about something in the class, something I can use next time around to appeal to similarly-minded students? Sometimes this is just not possible, but more often than not it's not.

And finally (and then I'll stop hijacking your comments, Mary!), I will sometimes print out/make copies of the most glowing evaluations (when a student says something that really touches me), and put those in a desk drawer. When I'm having a bad day, it really helps to pull those out and realize that I'm not such a horrible teacher after all!

Good luck!

Jane

oops! that should be "more often than not, it is."

academic coach

Jane,
You're not hijacking my comments: this is exactly the kind of helpful support I was seeking to provide Prof Anonymous :)
In fact, I'm forwarding the message directly to Prof A. -- I'm hoping that she'll find it helpful that almost all of us remember the snarks better than the bravos. I think that your idea of making copies of glowing evals is Brilliant.

Someone seeking advice

Prof A. gets 10% nasty evaluations, that's better than what I get. Mine is like 20% excellent, 60% satisfactory to good, and 20% nasty ones, from the same class.

academic coach

Someone Seeking,

How do handle the negative feedback? What do you do to focus on the 20% of excellent evals?

jo(e)

I don't find the standardized course evaluations that my college uses very helpful. My students will always say glowing things, but it is all very general. On the last day of class, I have a discussion with the students about the course and I ask really specific questions. (Should I use this book again? Why? Which class exercise was most helpful? Do you think you need more feedback on your essays? Do you think a course blog would work better than the group journals? Did the field trip we took seem relevant to the topics in the course?) My students -- in the mode of evaluating the course, rather than evaluating me the teacher -- end up saying lots of specific and helpful things that do in the long run make me a better teacher.

jo(e)

Oh, and if I get a negative evaluation from a student, most of the time, I just shrug. Because I know the students' handwriting by the end of the course, the evaluations are never really anonymous like they are supposed to be, and really negative comments almost always come from some pissed off student who didn't do the work and is angry that he is getting a low grade.

Students who give me high marks on evaluations will often give some helpful feedback like, "Maybe you need to move the student presentations to an earlier point in the semester." The students who like my teaching style and who understand what I am trying to accomplish in the classroom are the ones who give the most helpful suggestions as to what I can change for next year.

academic coach

jo(e),

As usual, you rock. (Of course we all know that you never get negative evals even though you make your students bust butt to learn to write better.)

Your advice is especially important for the folks who now get on-line evals. My understanding from my clients who are in universities with on-line systems is that the response rate is rarely greater than 20%. This makes the evals essentially useless since you only get reactions from outliers -- those who want to kiss your ass and those who want to nail your ass to the wall.

jo(e),
your comments bring us back to the essential importance of evals -- they are meant to make our teaching better. Too often when working with untenured coaching clients I start thinking of them merely as a means towards a strong tenure package.

The Unknown Professor

This is not directly on point, but it’s worked for me.

One tactic I've used is to have them give me 5 minute evaluations throughout the course of the semester. I call it "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". Here's how it works: The first time, I take about ten minutes at the end of class to explain that I need some feedback. I explain that I call it "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", because I want them to answer three questions:

“The Good” refers to the question “What am I doing well?”: are there things that I’m doing well, that are helpful in terms of making it easier for you to grasp the material, that you’d like to see more of, etc…

“The Bad” refers to the question “What can I improve on?”: this is the flip side of “The Good””

Then I explain that while “The Good” and “The Bad” refer to me, “The Ugly”refers to them the students (smile – it’s a joke)). Actually, I explain, it refers to the “ugly” topics that they are having trouble with, that they would like a little more explanation of, more examples, etc… (I teach a quantitative course, with a heavy algorithmic component).

I stress that I’d like concrete examples so that I can improve the class for their benefit.

Then, once I have the evals, if more than one or two that have commented on the same topic, I address it in class. This is particularly important if they note problems with the same topic/problem.

Doing this every week or so has a lot of benefits: it smokes out problems well before the “formal” evaluations, it allows me to regularly take the temperature of the class, and it gives me a good sense as to whether a certain module worked or lost the student.

Most important, it trains the students on how to give evaluations. I tell them that it’s important to be concrete (i.e. rather than tell me “This instructor sucks”, tell me how I suck, and how to suck less).

I’ve found that classes where I do this regularly give me evaluations that are about 0.3-0.5 higher (on a 5 point scale) than those in which I don’t.

terminaldegree

In my current university setting I don't have evals. This has been a small luxury, I'll admit. In my previous job, I found that using the "halfway through the term" informal eval really brought my end-of-term evals up a LOT. I would explain to my students the uselessness (to THEM) of waiting until the end to tell me why they were unhappy, when it was too late to fix anything. I also had them sign their names to the mid-term evals, because I explained that if I wasn't able to understand their comments, I wanted to be able to follow up. Part of the mid-term eval included a lot of stuff related to the course, not to ME (like joe's evals), and it helped students feel that they were able to tailor the class to their own needs. I made sure to explain what was good and what was frustrating about evals (you get feedback, which is good, but it's often contradictory, which isn't), and explained I couldn't please everyone. Once they felt more a part of the process, my evals really improved.

academic coach

Unknown Prof,

I always advise coaching clients I work with to do regular, small evals during the semester. I've always called them "taking the class temperature."

Terminal Degree,

I know lots of folks who are extremely envious right now that you are in the position to do optional rather than required evals. But what the hell is your administration thinking of? If I were a provost there is absolutely no way I would omit evals. Nor would I accept on-line response rates of 20%.

I *heart* your method - and title - I'm sending out this blog/comment url to several of my coaching clients RIGHT NOW. It is going to be earmarked as required reading for many people I work with. Thank you thank you for these great comments. Keep 'em coming...

Actually, If I were provost I would make everyone give "Good Bad Ugly" evals at least 4 times a semester and I would have the results including in annual performance reviews of even tenured profs.

Who wants to hire me as provost?

Alice

Our institution is using online evaluations, too, because we are saving almost $5,000 every semester (we are a very small school). This semester, our participation college-wide is just over 39%. I know, it's pathetic but students just don't care because there is no incentive whatsoever.

I am using midterm evaluations in my own classes and give extra credit; it really helps to get a general picture of what is going on.

As for negative comments, some are better ignored because they are not true and obviously come from disgruntled students who did not do what they were supposed to do and take out their anger on you, the instructor. Some, however, are excellent suggestions for making improvements.

terminaldegree

Here are some of the survey questions, intentionally in an informal writing style:

MID-TERM INFORMAL STUDENT SURVEY of instructor/learner expectations and participation

Instructions: Completing this required assignment is worth X points and is not graded on content. It will be completed in class and turned in today. (You'll get full credit just for turning it in with each question answered.)

Explanation: The formal course evals at the end of the term are very helpful for the students in the *next* class. However, this feedback comes too late for me to apply it to YOU. I need to know what aspects of the course are working, and what aspects need "tweaking," in order to make sure that YOU have a good experience in here. Your comments will help me to evaluate the materials we use, the way I present them, and the assignments you are given. This is your chance to take ownership of the material. Of course, you are also welcome to come chat with me during office hours. Thanks for your input!

1. Name: I need this so I can ask you questions if I need more clarification on one of your answers.

2. What is most helpful about this class?

3. Which unit (list here) studied so far have you found most/least interesting, and why? What could I do to make it more interesting? What could YOU do?

4. Which assignments have you find most enjoyable and relevant? Least? What are some variations you'd like to see? How could the assignments be improved? (Sorry, "don't give assignments" isn't an option!) :)

5. How much time does it take you each week to do the reading assignments?
None/30 minutes/1 hour/2 hours/more than two hours each week: _____

Is this more or less than required for other 200-level non-major courses you've taken here? A little more/a lot more/a little less/a little more/about the same

6. What perecentage of the reading are you doing each week? (Be honest; you and I both need to know what's working in this class and what isn't.)
100% 75% 50% 25% None
Since readings will really increase your ability to be successful in this class, how can I help you to be motivated to do the readings?

7. How could this course be improved? How could your work in this course be improved? (If you're happy with your current level of work, that's great, too!)

8. Instructor presentation of material: Can you understand all of my words? Am I speaking too slowly/too quickly/just right? Loud enough? Can you read the board? Are you clear on when I'm changing subjects? (I especially need to know this if English is not your first language; I want to make sure you can understand me! Can you understand your classmates, too?)

9. Did you use the Writing Center this term for help with class papers or rewrites?

10. Please give me feedback about our texbook. What do you like/dislike? What did you pay for it at the bookstore? (Instructors are seldom told what these books cost and I want to make sure I order materials that are not prohibitively expensive.) Were used copies available?

11. Any other comments?

12. Chocolate or strawberry?

Thanks for your great work in class this semester!

jo(e)

This semester, I said to my students, "Do you think the administration should move to online evaluations? It would definitely save paper and money."

They laughed at the idea. And one student explained, "No one would ever bother with them. The reason we fill these out is because the teachers hand them out and stare at us until we fill them out and hand them back."

I admit that I get these evaluation forms at conferences ... and always INTEND to send them back ... and never do.

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