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Better Course Evaluation Forms?

Posted by on Thursday, April 29, 2010 in News.

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education features an article on efforts around the country to improve the course evaluation forms students complete at the end of each semester.  Ideas for improvement mentioned in the article inclue:

  • Mechanisms by which departments and instructors can customized the standard forms used in their schools, such as those provided by the IDEA Center
  • Questions designed to have students assess their own learning rather than their instructor’s teaching, such as those used by the Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG) project
  • Comparison of local evaluation data with national data sets including similar courses at other institutions
  • Text analysis of student responses to open-ended questions as a tool for helping instructors make better sense of these responses

The article also raises some questions about the use of student course evaluations.  Are they intended to provide instructors with formative feedback on their teaching so that they can improve their teaching over time?  Should they be used to evaluate an instructor’s teaching effectiveness in the promotion and tenure process?  If they are used for more summative purposes, Ken Bain (author of What the Best College Teachers Do) argues that they shouldn’t be the only source of data.

In Mr. Bain’s view, student evaluations should be just one of several tools colleges use to assess teaching. Peers should regularly visit one another’s classrooms, he argues. And professors should develop “teaching portfolios” that demonstrate their ability to do the kinds of instruction that are most important in their particular disciplines.

Not surprisingly, the Chronicle article has generated much discussion on the Chronicle website.  See the comments section below the article for a sampling of reactions.

What’s your reaction to this article?  How would you improve student course evaluations?

See the CFT’s guide to student evaluations for advice on making sense of your own evaluations, as well as information on research on student evaluations.  CFT teaching consultants are also available to help you reflect on your course evaluations.  Just call the CFT at 322-7290 to set up an appointment.

Image: “Last Undergraduate Class!” by Flickr user Industry Is Virtue / Creative Commons licensed


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