This is the first part of a two-part post. As an end of term treat, next week will feature a roundtable post with more evaluation hacks from instructors across the teaching spectrum!
Alongside stacks of unmarked essays and the promise of candy cane flavoured lattes, the final weeks of November mean the end of classes. And, the end of classes mean it’s every instructor’s favourite time of year: it’s course evaluation time.
As anyone in higher education knows, teaching evaluations have conventionally played a significant role in hiring, promotion, and tenure processes. Theoretically, they provide students the opportunity to report on their experiences with an instructor, giving institutions key information about what happens in courses across university campuses.
Practically, they are far murkier.
There is plenty of evidence (see: here, here, and here) that suggests that teaching evaluations are frequently inflected by biases and gender biases in particular. To boot, they are designed like standardized tests (often complete with institutional grey and blue colour schemes). And, frankly, the questions are usually, ahem, unhelpful in terms of actual pedagogical feedback.
I find all of this annoying.
I’m currently a postdoctoral researcher and contract instructor, so whether I like it or not, evaluations matter for my career. At the same time, I’m at a point in my teaching where I genuinely want feedback. And, I really want feedback about things that course evaluations aren’t designed to gather, like assignment creation and the success or failure of specific activities.
So, last year, I decided to solicit end of term feedback from students in addition to their course evaluations. This isn’t super radical. I, and many other teachers, do mid-term check-ins. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share the process and list of questions as a resource.
These questions were for a small, seminar-based performance studies class. The class was comprised of upper year students and took place once a week for three hours.
- What reading did you enjoy the most/get the most out of this semester? Why?
- What reading from BEFORE reading break (so, Kelsey selected) did you enjoy the least/get the least out of this semester. Why?
- What worked for you about the co-facilitation project?
- Was the co-facilitation assignment a better or worse experience for you than a traditional individual or group presentation? Why?
- Was there an element of the co-facilitation project that hindered your leaning?
- Did the reading responses support your learning? Why or why not?
- Was there an in-class activity that you vividly remember? Which one? Why?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?
On the final day of class, I paired my usual speech about course evaluations (they matter) with my introduction to this set of questions.
Wanting to give my students the same freedom to respond to these questions as their course evaluations, I also arranged for one of my students to collect the informal evaluations, put them in a sealed envelope, and to hand them off to a colleague to keep until after grades were submitted.
When semester was over, I collected the envelope and was both pleased and surprised with the depth of feedback I received: the co-facilitation project was generally helpful for learning but also a bit complex on the ground; there was one too many historiography readings, and students took away unexpected nuggets from the class.
Most importantly, unlike my teaching evaluations, which are generally written about me, the feedback was written to me. This meant that it was phrased so that I could read it constructively, and in combination with my evaluations, the students’ insights offered a really helpful perspective for moving forward in my teaching practice.