Surviving Student Evaluations
Many institutions now use some sort of student survey on satisfaction with courses and teachers; they are embraced by people who get high scores, and hated by those who get low scores. Loved or hated, they are often taken seriously by administrators, if only for the reason that they are currently one of the few ways to document teaching effectiveness.
So the question remains, how can one improve one's survey scores? TΦ101 suggests several strategies:
Observe and be observed. Ask colleagues whom you respect and trust to observe your classes and ask to observe their classes. You can learn a lot. If your institution has a teaching center, ask one of the staff members to observe your class and make suggestions.
Give surveys throughout the semester. Don't wait until the end of the semester to get hammered on surveys. There is no rule that says that you can't get a copy of the survey questions and give a preliminary survey at the middle of the semester. If you see problems you can work to correct them. The students will often be pleased that you care what they think and want to improve the course.
Focus on the factors that make a difference. At Villanova University we use a typical student survey instrument. We also did a statistical analysis of which factors were most closely related to overall satisfaction with the course. Assuming that Villanova students resemble students at other institutions, there are six factors that are most closely associated with satisfaction on the overall rating on teaching effectiveness. Changes in these areas are most likely to improve the overall rating score, which is the one most people look at. For those who are interested in the statistics, we list them with numbers attached, but the general idea is that the factors are listed in order of relevance. Clearly the most important factors are things such as clarity, availability, and organization. Interestingly, factors such as enthusiasm or "fair" grading are much less important to students when it comes to assigning overall satisfaction ratings. This is encouraging. Not all of us can be funny and charismatic, but anyone who really works at it can learn to explain things clearly and be available to students
Explanation of variance of responses of overall evaluation of quality of instruction (question 28).
Remember, that we are discussing student perceptions here, so that it is not enough, for example, for you to organize and plan the course effectively from your own perspective. Students must also perceive that the course is well organized and planned. Sometimes it is helpful to spend a little bit of time helping students perceive things that you yourself may be aware of.
Course and Teacher Survey (CATS) at Villanova University: A Guide for New Faculty Members, 18 January 2008 (this site is restricted to Villanova University faculty members only).
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: April 22, 2009