Lessons Learned from Student Evaluations?

The semester is over. Grades are submitted. Summer approaches. And student evaluations are complete and ready to review. Student evaluations, as most professors know, are an imperfect arbiter of teaching excellence. Nonetheless, student evaluations can point to aspects of classes that need development and improvement, especially when many students point to the same issues in their evaluations.

This semester, for instance, I taught a course for the first time. It was a course I was excited to teach—an upper-division course, squarely in my areas of interest—and for the most part it went well. As with any new course, however, the semester was an experiment, and parts of that experiment worked better than others. In my student evaluations, I noticed several trends that I will consider closely as I revise the course to teach it again in the fall:

  • The relationships between the course readings and assignments were not always clear to students. I realize that many of the connections I saw between what we read and what we did in class were clear because of long-standing conversations within the digital humanities community that my students weren’t privy to. I need to do a better job making those implicit connections explicit.
  • I didn’t provide enough checkpoints to help students understand how they were doing in the class. Much of the course grade was vested in the final project students completed. I set the course up this way deliberately. As an upper-division course, I was far more interested in where students ended up than I was with their incremental progress. This led to more anxiety on the part of my students than I anticipated—and, frankly, that anxiety didn’t come out publicly in class, but did emerge in the course evaluations. I need to stage the course assignments more carefully and give more detailed feedback through the semester. I may consider reweighing the assignments so students feel their work earlier in the semester has meaning.
  • We moved too quickly through too many texts. I will consider trimming the reading a bit so that the class has adequate time to unpack each course reading.

In short, I hope to use my students’ comments to improve this class and grow as a teacher. I know my students in the fall will benefit from this semester’s students.

So, how about you? What did you learn from your student evaluations this semester that you will take into your planning over the summer? Tell us about the ways you’ve grown through student evaluations in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user billsoPHOTO.]

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