On Twitter and in comments, Jessica has asked about “interpreting student evaluations that are heavy on stats and light on narrative.” Since my department doesn’t use our university’s standard evaluation form, and doesn’t have any bubble-sheet-type questions, I’m probably a curious choice to respond, but I thought ProfHacker readers could chime in.
First, it’s always helpful to keep in mind that institutional evaluation forms are probably not designed to glean useful information about your teaching practice or about your course. They’re (obviously) designed to cover a whole range of courses and teaching styles, and so are only going to partially reflect the realities of your class. Moreover, the real purpose of an institution-level evaluation form is to compare your teaching with others at your institution, usually for the purposes of promotion, tenure, or other review. The numbers may not immediately tell you whether to incorporate more collaborative assignments, but they probably will speak to the question of whether your teaching is broadly comparable in quality to that found in other classes.
A corollary of this probably rises to the level of ProfHacker dogma: If what you want is information about your pedagogy and your classes, then the best thing to do is design your own evaluation form. You design an evaluation that assesses the goals and effectiveness of your pedagogy, and offer that as a supplement. (For further points on this, see: Billie’s post on “Mid-Term Evaluations,” Brian’s on “Getting the Most Out of Your Evaluations,” plus Billie on “Reflexive Pedagogy.”
Having said *all* of that, however, it seems to me that the most important use of the numbers is historical: Rather than relying on your memory of how one iteration of a course does rather than another (which can easily lead to the overreacting I copped to yesterday), you can see how the students responded. Also, in some departments you could probably open a discussion about best practices by looking at anonymous statistical summaries of everyone teaching a particular course (such as a survey, or Biology I, or something).
ProfHacker readers: Aside from producing pretty, pretty graphs, how do you mine numerically-based student evaluations?
Image by Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt / Creative Commons licensed