Gaming the Course Evaluations

Okay, let’s admit it. We are all aware that it’s time to hand out our course evaluations. It’s our turn to squirm while our students circle bubbles on bubble forms and scribble furiously. Does anyone ever get over the sense of fear these evaluations engender?

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I sure haven’t. I’ve been teaching forEVER and I still get all anxious about handing them out. We usually get our packets of forms a couple of weeks before the end of classes. When is the best time to hand them out, we ask ourselves?

What if we are about to hand back a graded assignment- a paper or exam? If the grades were good, this might be a great time to hand them out. Students are feeling confident in their abilities, thinking they might get that A or A- after all.

What about if the grades aren’t that rosy? Maybe it would be better to hand out the evaluations before handing back that assignment.

But, then again, they might be worried about what grade they will be getting or they might be annoyed that it’s taking me so long. Maybe hand back the assignment and then wait a week or so?

Or, maybe do the evaluations the last day of class. Show them how much they’ve learned- maybe with a retrospective slide show set to music. Or, give them a pep talk about how much they’ve learned. Or, maybe have a class discussion sweetened with homemade snacks. Get them in the mood. (Would wine and cheese be better?)

Do you think it really matters what happens the day before or the day that you give out the evaluation forms? Are the responses really that superficial that getting back an assignment with a B on it (face it, there aren’t too many grades lower than that these days) will cause a student to ream me on an evaluation? And if so, what does that mean about the validity of the evaluations?

We all value the assessment of our courses and our teaching of those courses. We all want to be able to provide a course that students will value highly. So why do we get so nervous? I know that I can’t help but “take it personally” after I’ve put so much time, effort, emotional and physical energy into teaching a course. It hurts to be told that my jokes are too corny or the course was too hard (“like climbing Mt. Everest” one student said one year). But, I need to read those comments to continue to improve my courses and my relationship with my students.

Like I’ve said in other posts, having feedback early is much more helpful than after the course is done. I get a little nervous when I hand out my midterm evaluation, but I also look forward to the input to make the current course better or more tailored to my particular students.

What makes me petrified about the official course evaluations is how the numbers are used by my College to make value judgements about me as a teacher. If I struggle with a particular class chemistry or a new approach to teaching and my numbers are lower, I am judged (or so I believe) to be a lesser teacher. The judgement is reflected in the merit raise I get in my salary after a post-tenure review. A low evaluation in a single course can have long-lasting effects on my earnings and on my reputation on campus.

But also

I don’t want to find out that my students didn’t like my course as much as I did.

Good luck with yours!