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By this point, we’ve all heard the arguments around student evaluations of teaching and their uses. This article isn’t about rehashing that debate. Student evaluations are currently used across campus to solicit feedback about a course and an instructor – let’s talk about some way to get more out of those evaluations, before students even fill them out.

 

Prepare students for what they are.

 

Most students don’t know what student evaluations of teaching are – not really. Have an honest conversation, before the start of the semester, about how these questionnaires are used. Let students know that their ratings are important, and that their comments and scores are carefully reviewed by you and by your chair to assess the effectiveness of a course. Unlike unsavory forums like “Rate my Professor,” student evaluations of teaching are not an opportunity to vent on the internet. And they are not an appropriate venue for ad hominem, attacks, threatening language, or vague platitudes.

 

Talk about constructive criticism.

 

Many students (and some instructors!) are not so gifted in the art of feedback, and can be challenged to write truly constructive comments. If you haven’t already had a chance for students to offer or respond to constructive criticism during your course, consider sharing some examples of really constructive comments from prior student evaluations. This also demonstrates to students that their comments are taken seriously and used to make future decisions.

 

Ask students to keep specifics about the course in mind when they answer questions.

 

If you want feedback on a specific aspect of the course, let students know. For example, did you change the course readings significantly? Do you want to know more about the pace of the course? Or how students prepared for class? Ask students to keep specific aspects of the course in mind when they answer the numerical ratings questions, and encourage them to leave written feedback on those items too.

 

Review the syllabus briefly to show students how far they have come.

 

Learning outcomes show students where they will get to at the end of the semester, if they have worked hard and engaged with your course. On the last day of class, ask them to bring their syllabus and review it to see where they were in the beginning, and where they are now. Let them know you want to do this ahead of time, or maybe even consider having them write a short reflection paragraph on the syllabus. This will help get them in an appropriate mindset for meaningful feedback.

 

Give students an audience that is bigger than you.

 

Ask students to consider how their comments might affect changes for future classes and students. Yes, you’ll read their comments, but well-crafted feedback can lead to discussions about the course with other faculty, and it helps you craft a narrative about your teaching that can be read by dozens of people. If students consider their audience to be bigger than 1 person, they may take their comments more seriously.

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