Using the Results of Course Evaluations to Improve Your Teaching
While student ratings of instruction (commonly called course evaluations) are usually seen as a form of summative evaluation of a course and an instructor, they can also be used to improve a course and an instructor’s teaching. The suggestions below will help you extract information from your evaluations that you can use to improve your teaching.
Look for trends or patterns in the results. Rather than focusing on individual item means, look for consistency among the results of several related items. Alternatively, if you have taught a particular course for several semesters, look at the results across semesters to discern trends in the data.
Focus on a few aspects of your evaluations. If the means for a number of items are lower than you’d like them to be, focus your efforts on a few of those items. For example, if your scores on items related to in-class activities and lecturing are high, but the scores for items relating to the readings and homework are low, then you might focus your efforts on revising the readings and out-of-class activities the next time you teach the course.
Don’t give undue weight to open-ended comments. Students’ written comments can be useful in improving a course, but it can be difficult to determine whether individual comments are representative of the views of the class as a whole. So as with the numerical data, look for trends in the comments. You may want to categorize comments into groups according to their content. This strategy will allow you to pay closer attention to comments that occur frequently, while paying less attention to those that seem to be outliers.
Take into account characteristics of your course (other than your teaching methods) that may affect student ratings. Such factors include:
- course size – smaller classes tend to get higher ratings than larger ones
- whether the instructor is a graduate student or appointed faculty – appointed faculty tend to receive higher ratings
- the discipline the course is in – courses in the natural sciences and math tend to get lower ratings
- whether the course is in the student’s major – courses outside the major tend to receive lower ratings
See Factors that Influence Course Evaluations for more information.
Remember that effective instructors, regardless of how well they teach, are continually working on improving their teaching skills. This is a process that takes time.
Perry, J. D. (2002). Course Evaluation Practices at IU Bloomington. Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties.
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