How to Evaluate Your Teaching
In May 1977, Stanford’s Faculty Senate approved a resolution calling for universal evaluation of courses by students at the end of each quarter. Since then, course evaluations have become a standard fixture of teaching life at Stanford. And, indeed, they can be a source of essential feedback to teachers on how a course has gone and how it might be strengthened. However, 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. Alone, the questionnaire data do not seem to motivate teachers to change. Instead, change is more likely to occur if teachers discuss their evaluations with a sympathetic and knowledgeable colleague or teaching consultant. At Stanford, the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning will provide you with a consultation.
Moreover, there are other often more timely ways to evaluate how well your course is going. You can arrange some of these methods yourself; others are available through the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.
• Midquarter, pass out your own carefully thought-out questionnaire for students to fill out anonymously. Focus on those issues that are of most interest or concern to you. Follow up on the students’ feedback; consider discussing the feedback in class and letting the students know what changes you will be making.
• Talk to some students informally after class or during your office hours about how the class is going. Ask them what’s gone well and what hasn’t worked. Choose students who you think will be comfortable giving you feedback. Even then you will have to be careful that they don’t feel “on the spot.”
• Ask a friend, a colleague, or a consultant from the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning 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.
• Be videorecorded. 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 when they go over the recording with a consultant afterward. You can arrange free videorecording and consultation through the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.
• Have a small-group feedback session (SGFS) conducted by VPTL. 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 groups of six (or fewer if it is a small class). 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. 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.
Course Evaluations for TAs
The same course evaluation services that VPTL provides to faculty are available to TAs, and increasingly, departments and schools provide formal course evaluations for TAs. If you're a TA not being evaluated by the Registrar's online end-quarter evaluations, you can use VPTL's online teaching feedback survey to be run at the end of the quarter instead of mid-quarter.