Back in March of this year, I wrote a ProfHacker post describing my experience with some student evaluations that detailed inaccurate information. Specifically, students complained that I had not given them all the information necessary to know how they would be evaluated on a project. However, I had documentation that showed when and where I posted the information and when I referred to it in class. In my post, I asked for reader input on the topic of inaccurate information in student evaluations.
The response was enormous! To date, sixty readers have commented on the issue. Clearly it touched a nerve, and my guess is that the topic might be touching a nerve again* since the semester is over (or nearly over) for most readers. It’s worth revisiting and summarizing the feedback.
In reading over the comments, I observe a range of responses. Several readers expressed a wide variety of feelings about the issue, from annoyance to despair. Some readers offered great suggestions on things they had done in the past to combat this issue, and others responded describing how those tactics did or didn’t work for them.
Personally, I found the responses very helpful. As I noted in one comment, I immediately implemented the idea of adding a bit of student reflection to an informal mid-term evaluation I do for full-semester classes. I asked the students to think about how they were preparing for and keeping up with coursework, and to think about how they could improve on their part. The result? Really thoughtful answers, with a few students making truly significant responses that indicated they had thought carefully about their activity in my course and were going to change up their habits.
Overall, I took away from our discussion a number of thoughts on the inaccurate evaluation issue.
- It is important to know who sees your evaluations, what weight they carry, and if you are able to comment on them in some way. Some commenters mentioned that they have been able to append memos to evaluations, so that their side of the story is visible to reviewers.
- An ounce of preventive communication is worth a pound of later action. Some commenters described a multipronged approach to communicating expectations of the course and ensuring the students are aware of them, such as giving a quiz over the syllabus, giving electronic announcements as well as in-class ones, etc. You might not get all students on board, but maybe it will make the difference for more than a few.
- Document, document, document. The importance of a paper trail, or more generally any communication trail, was emphasized by several commenters. Whether it’s an email sent to your chair (which you can prove by going back to your sent messages email folder if need be) or a history you make for yourself of what was communicated when, documentation is your friend.
- Even if you weren’t in the wrong, learn from the situation and strive to improve. Frankly, we can all do better in communication. Personally, I’m going to annotate my syllabus in a more detailed fashion, as well as make a mark on my calendar for the class after an add date so that I will remember to rehash in class important information from the syllabus as well as expectations and methods of communication. It could be helpful to think about how and where you communicate information, as well. Too many streams of communication, that perhaps aren’t always in sync, can be as detrimental as not enough information.
Even when feedback is hurtful and/or inaccurate, we can still use it to improve our teaching. What feedback challenges are you facing at the end of this semester? How can you use them to improve your teaching? Do you have any other opinions to weigh in with on the inaccurate student evaluation issue? Let us know in the comments.
*It might seem odd that I posted on the topic at mid-semester, but my college has a quad system in which some courses meet for half a semester.
[Image Creative Commons licensed / Flickr user gumuz]