Student Course Evaluations

Does the term “student course evaluation” make you flinch? As Mary Clement recently suggested, the time to consider student evaluations is at the beginning of the semester..

To make evaluations an opportunity as opposed to a threat, here are a few things to consider:

1. Get to know your students
Getting to know your students not only makes class more fun for both you and the students, it allows you to tailor your examples and references to their learning context. Situating your content in students’ context helps them relate to the material in ways that best makes use of prior knowledge.

2. Make criteria for your course assessments clear
As experts, we often have a blind spot with our material because we know it so well. We see connections or expectations as obvious when they may not be to a novice. The more explicit we can be about criteria, the better – for both us and our students.

 3. Give formative feedback – early and often
Giving early feedback gives students an opportunity to improve both their learning and their demonstration of their learning. Giving feedback often can alleviate anxiety, guide students, and give us feedback about our practice so we can improve our teaching.

 4. Read your past evaluations
Student evaluations can provide useful data. If you are nervous about taking a good, hard loo, find a trusted colleague with whom you can compare notes. You will be surprised how much differently an objective set of eyes can interpret what students had to say about your course.

 5. Start small
Don’t try to change everything all at once. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible. Secondly, if you change everything, you won’t really know what it was that made the difference.  After you’ve selected one or two items that might be worth adjusting or addressing, outline how you might incorporate that change. You might even consider making an appointment with a staff member at the Delphi Center to think through incorporating the small change. Appointments are confidential and you guide the focus of the conversation. Learn more here:

 6. Quick! Share your response! Close the loop!
Share with students how you’ve responded to past feedback you have received. This will show that you’re open to feedback. This small step may help students feel comfortable enough to share other feedback (both positive and negative) earlier in the semester when you have time to respond. Sharing your response with students can also include them in the process of evaluating whether your response was a workable solution.

 7. The end-of-semester evaluation is not the only time to gather input
Gather feedback throughout the semester – finding out that something isn’t working during the semester gives you a chance to respond and try something new. Also, feel free to create your own evaluative document to get more personal feedback from students – perhaps about specific areas of interest in response to previous evaluations. Mid-semester feedback (MSFs) opportunities can be transformative! There are a number of ways to collect and use MSF. A few resources are included below, and you can also schedule an MSF through the Delphi Center by contacting:

 (Suggestions compiled from:,,

What are your biggest fears about course evaluations? What recommendations do you have about responding to student feedback? What changes have you made in response to your student evaluations? 


Additional resources about collecting information from students to evaluate your teaching:

Appraising Teaching Effectiveness: Beyond Student Ratings,” Donald P. Hoyt and William H. Pallett. (IDEA Paper #36, November 1999).
Discusses the value, limitations, and problems of several methods used to gather data about teaching effectiveness. Makes recommendations for their use based on faculty status as first-year, non-tenured, or tenured faculty.

Mid-Semester Feedback (MSF)
Students share their evaluation of their learning experience mid-way through the semester.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
Collect formative feedback from your students early and often with simple methods.

Critical Incident Questionnaires (CIQs)
Students give their impressions of what is helping or hindering their learning.

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