Student Evaluations

Make Sure Your Evaluations Aren’t “Evil-uations”

Does this apply to you?

To many (most?) college instructors, “student evals” are a once-a-term event that prompts a bit of anxiety and not much more. Your students complete them, they are sent in a sealed envelope to someone at your college who reviews them, and later you receive the results. The moment arrives. Drum roll!!! With fear and trepidation, you open the envelope. There are the ratings and comments from students. They are good, bad or indifferent. You close the envelope, file it (possibly in the circular file), and you move on. That is, you move on unless they were really bad.

Is that all there is? If you think so, click here.

My Advice During the Term

(You have to love my 7th recommendation. That’s an order.)

  1. Review a copy of the student evaluation form you will be using. Do an honest assessment of where you stand on each the criteria. Build on your strengths, but work to improve your weaker (Note: I did not say bad, poor, or lousy) areas.
  2. When planning a class, review the form and ask yourself how you and your lesson will size up.
  3. After class, review the form again and identify areas where you could have done better.
  4. Don’t wait until the end of the term to learn what your students really think. Have them complete anonymous evaluations several times during the duration of the course.
  5. Use online survey tools like Survey Monkey to create anonymous evaluation questionnaires for your students to submit.
  6. Tell your students that you value their feedback, and mean it. Explain that you take all their comments and ratings to heart and thank them for the time they will be taking to fill out the evaluation forms.
  7. Just before you leave the room so you students can anonymously complete their formal evaluations, point out the headings on the form. This is important. Each term I see dozens of incorrectly marked ratings. Make sure they know that “Strongly Agree” means they wish to give you a high rating and that this is the rightmost column. Tell them that “Strongly Disagree” is the rating they should give if they don’t think you are doing well in the area. Then, tell them that they will have to find that column on their own. (It can’t hurt to get them laughing a little before they grade you.)

My Advice After Your Receive Your Formal Student Evaluations

  1. Review your evaluations. Pat yourself on the back for the positive feedback you received and give careful consideration to the less positive responses.
  2. Identify any trends. For example, you may have received 96 percent positive ratings, but assume that most of that other four percent were about your ability to explain things clearly and how well organized you were. Think about why, right or wrong, some students thought poorly of you. Identify, or make a good guess at, what you did to garner these responses.
  3. Identify any highly critical evaluations. Almost certainly, the displeasure this student experienced precipitated a bit of unpleasantness for you too. Often times, you will have a sense of who wrote such an evaluation. This may have been the student from %$&#%$ who aggravated you to no end. Let’s say he was angry because, allegedly, you never answered his questions. Think about how you could have dealt with this student better. No matter how wrong the student was with his feedback, by addressing the issue you will create less grief for yourself in the future.
  4. Take to heart negative comments students wrote about your behavior, comments like “You were an easy grader,” “You assigned far too much homework,” “Lay off the jokes,” “Ms. Smith acted like she wanted us to fail,” “Mr. Jones never graded our homework” “Our instructor never answered questions,” or “She was the worst instructor I ever had.” “He let some of the other students run the class.” These all deserve your attention and, in many cases, some changes on your part.
  5. Never think that positive ratings without any written comments are good enough. If your students really think highly of you they want the dean and whoever else may read your evaluations to know.
  6. Ask for assistance in areas in which you want to improve.

More on Student Evaluations

How good is good enough? Find out what your Dean, Associate Dean, Department Chair, or whoever you evaluations thinks. Ask other faculty for their opinions too.

Personally, I like to see the frequency of positive ratings in the upper 90 percent range. Even more so, I love those written comments, the good ones that is. If there are no written comments yet the instructor received 99.9 percent positive ratings, I question whether they took the evaluation seriously.

I have rehired adjuncts with positive ratings in the low 80 percent range, especially when there are nice write compliments. However, I have no rigid cutoff. If I am convinced that the instructor can and wants to improve, I will often give that individual another chance. I think I went into the 70’s once when I knew the instructor had dug himself a hole early in the course. Also, I weigh ratings by type of course. I know that, on the average, 100-level mathematics students and general education science students are harder on their instructors.

I hope you feel your time was well spent reading this post.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 14, 2010


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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