It’s not too early to start talking about course feedback with your students.
With the spring semester underway, we suggest faculty discuss the importance of students providing constructive feedback throughout the course and then gather some from them. The following strategies have been shown to improve response rates and the quality of course feedback from students:
- Take time towards the beginning of the course to discuss the value of student feedback. Consider collecting input from students throughout the course and not solely at the end (e.g., after the first few days/weeks depending on course duration, following a major project or activity, and/or midway through). Collecting information at multiple points throughout the course enhances your teaching and your students’ learning, as well as maintains communication between you and your students. These efforts show students that you value their perspective and can lead to more constructive responses once the course feedback window is open.
- Share with current students how you incorporated prior quantitative and qualitative feedback into your course. This could include examples of helpful feedback that was used, as well as unhelpful feedback that couldn’t be used.
- While the course feedback window is open, during each class session, remind students to complete their forms and that their responses are confidential. Be sure to thank those who have already submitted feedback. Response rates can be tracked in real-time within the course feedback system and can be used to prompt students to respond.
- Reserve 15 minutes during class time for students to complete the course feedback form. Syracuse University instructors who make an effort to utilize class time tend to receive response rates of 75% or higher. If the class is meeting in a campus location, discuss this in advance and encourage students to use their mobile phones or laptops on a selected date.
If you are interested in collecting mid-course feedback in the University’s system, please visit our website to learn more. Faculty can build a spring 2023 mid-course feedback form in the system starting Monday, February 20. The mid-course feedback window for students is Monday, March 6, at 9 a.m. through Tuesday, March 14, at 11:59 p.m. Results are available only to instructors immediately following the window closing.
Important steps for departments to strengthen the course feedback process.
While consistency in course feedback forms over time is important, periodic reflection on the instruments is also an important undertaking to ensure that helpful information is being collected from students and to minimize potential bias in their responses. The University’s transition to a new online course feedback system two years ago presented a good opportunity for this discussion, and some departments and schools/colleges revised and refined their forms. For those academic areas that continue to use student ratings forms from the prior OIR system, we strongly recommend dedicating time for faculty to review those forms and create a new one.
Important practices in collecting course feedback have been identified in the literature, particularly to minimize bias in the responses, including:
- Take the emphasis off the instructor and reframe questions to focus on students’ engagement in their own learning and specific course/instructional elements (the Academic Affairs common questions are an example of this reframing).
- Ensure that the questions being asked are ones to which students can reasonably respond (i.e., have direct knowledge of). “Instructor’s knowledge of the field” is often used as an example here with some questioning whether students can accurately gauge this of the instructor.
- Eliminate global questions along the lines of “Rate this instructor” or “I rate this instructor as effective.” These types of questions have been shown to result in biased responses. Additionally, interpretation is difficult as effective teaching can mean different things to different students, and it is impossible to know what students are taking into consideration as they respond.
- Move away from calling the process “student ratings,” “course evaluations,” or “student evaluations of teaching” (SET), in favor of “course feedback.” A key message to convey is that students are being asked to constructively share their perspective on the course experience, not to evaluate or rate the course or the instructor.
These practices should be considered in the departmental form revision process. Additionally, faculty should:
- Eliminate questions that overlap with the Academic Affairs common questions.
- Adopt the University’s six-point scale if an agreement scale is being used (the neutral option is replaced with “somewhat disagree” and “somewhat agree” to address central tendency bias).
- Engage students in this reflective exercise of determining appropriate and meaningful questions.
The IEA course feedback team is available to meet either virtually or in-person to support this effort, as well as listen to faculty input, share information, and answer questions about the University’s course feedback process and system. Please contact us if we can be of assistance.