It’s that time of the semester again (or will be shortly): the moment when we ask our students to tell us what we do well or at least what they think we do well. What I’ve found is that students don’t always seem to have a sense of exactly what these evaluations are for. After all, it’s not like they get to see the evaluations of professors whose courses that they are taking. (Or do they?)
But we know that getting evaluations done by students can be really useful. After all, it’s going to make up a portion of your tenure file. Or if you’re like me and you’re not in a tenure-track position, your evaluations can be an important part of your dossier as you’re hunting for a room of your own. All job-related reasons aside, evaluations are the best place for us to get feedback from our students/customers about what we’ve designed for a semester’s work. It certainly is nice to know whether our intricately planned assignments and reading list was coherent and interesting. What this means is that it’s in our best interest as educators to get the most participation from students in completing their evaluations. So how does one do this?
Here’s a couple of tips that I’ve put into place over the last year that have radically improved my yield on evaluations.
- I ask my students to do the evaluations at the beginning of class. When I was an undergrad, most of my professors did them at the end of a class period. This put the students in the position of only having a scantron between them and freedom. If you give them that option, they won’t spend much time since you don’t matter to them as much as leaving class. (Sorry to break it to you.) On the other hand, if you start class with evaluations, they are working against their own self-interest. Either option is potentially painful: being taught or filling out an evaluation. You force them to choose, and inevitably I’ve found that they choose to do a good job with the evaluations. (I’m aware of course that this is a proleptic evaluation of my teaching.)
- In addition to the scantron, I distribute an open-ended evaluation. But instead of using my department’s generic one, I write my own. This gives me a chance to write questions (normally 5-7) that are specific to my teaching and our class. I frequently ask about texts that I should and shouldn’t teach again, about assignments, and about my teaching style.
How do you hack your (students’ participation on) evaluations?
[Image by Flickr user cocoen. Used under Creative Commons license.]