Course Feedback Overview
Course evaluations have long been a standard fixture of teaching life at Stanford, but a vast literature on student evaluations of teaching also indicates that these evaluations in and of themselves—while generally valid and reliable in their data—do not necessarily lead to improved teaching. This page provides a number of strategies about how to obtain relevant feedback and put it to good use.
Strategies for Obtaining Feedback
Seek Course Feedback Early
Don't wait for an end-term course evaluation. Find out how your course is working in time to make improvements.
Arrange for Your Students to Be Interviewed
You can request VPTL to conduct a Small Group Feedback Session (SGFS), or you can get a colleague to do it.
At your request, VPTL will send a consultant to your class during the last twenty minutes of the period. Once you have left, the consultant will divide your students into small groups. Each group is given ten minutes to select a spokesperson and agree on what they value about your course, what areas need improvement, and what specific suggestions they would make for change.
Invite a colleague or VPTL consultant to conduct an oral evaluation with your students during the last twenty minutes of class. After you leave, the evaluator asks students to cluster into small groups to take several minutes to do the following:
- Select a spokesperson who will also write down the group's comments.
- Name elements of the course that have helped their learning.
- Name aspects of the course that have hindered their learning and that they would like to see changed.
- Suggest how the course could be improved, both by the instructor and by the students.
At the end of the allotted time, the consultant canvasses each group and makes a record of their comments. He or she then summarizes the results, identifying patterns of agreement and clarifying areas of disagreement. The information is given to you later in a private consultation.
Solicit Students' Opinions About the Course
Distribute blank index cards during the last five or ten minutes of class. Pass out 3 x5 cards to students and ask them to respond anonymously to two questions, one on the front of the card, the other on the back. You can pose general questions about what is going well in the course and what needs to be improved or changed.
Other general questions: What do you want more of? Less of? How are you finding the course? Any problems? What do you need before the end of the term? You may prefer to ask more specific questions about aspects of the course, such as whether the problem sets are too difficult or whether the pace of the class is causing difficulties.
Leave the room while students write their comments. Ask a student volunteer to collect the cards and return them to you or the department assistant.
You can also use an online evaluation form through VPTL.
Arrange to Have Your Class Observed
Ask a friend, a colleague, or a consultant from the VPTL to observe your class. VPTL has trained consultants who have learned specific observational techniques and have considerable teaching experience. If you invite a friend or colleague in, brief them carefully on what specifically you would like them to look for. Colleagues, especially, tend to focus exclusively on content unless you also ask them to attend to how ideas are presented and how students respond.
See for Yourself: Your Teaching on Camera
This is the only evaluation method that lets you see your teaching more or less as your students do. Although teachers generally feel great anxiety about having it done, most feel reassured and motivated afterward. You can arrange free video recording through VPTL.
Responding to Feedback
Respond quickly to student comments.
Ideally, you will want to respond to your students' comments at the next class meeting, so schedule fast feedback activities, such as index cards, informal questionnaires, or small group evaluations, at those times during the quarter when you will have the opportunity to immediately review the class's comments.
Consider Carefully What Students Say
First, look over the positive things your students have said about the course. This is important because it is too easy to get swayed by negative comments. Then consider their suggestions for improvement and group them into three categories:
- Those you can change this quarter (for example, the turnaround time on homework assignments)
- Those that must wait until the next time the course is offered (for example, the textbook)
- Those that you either cannot or, for pedagogical reasons, will not change (for example, the number of quizzes or tests)
You may want to ask a colleague or a teaching consultant to help you identify options for making changes.
Let students know what, if anything, will change as a result of their feedback. Thank your students for their comments and invite their ongoing participation in helping you improve the course. Students appreciate knowing that an instructor has carefully considered what they have said.
Clarify any confusions or misunderstandings about your goals and their expectations. Then give a brief account of which of their suggestions you will act upon this term, which must wait until the course is next offered, and which you will not act upon and why. Let students know what they can do as well. For example, if students report that they are often confused, invite them to ask questions more often. Keep your tone and attitude neutral; avoid being defensive, indignant, or unduly apologetic.