When Feedback Fails: Course Evaluation Season

Dr. Ben Faber

This is a plea for students to take course evaluations seriously.

The three people most deeply invested in the evaluations are your professor, his or her dean and yourself. Your professors rely on your feedback for their growth as effective teachers. They want to hear from you what works well and what doesn’t work well, how they can improve and what would enhance students’ engagement in the course.

Professors want your input on course content and delivery. Should they challenge students more? Should they ease up? They want to know what they can do to help students achieve the learning outcomes in the course. Sometimes professors will get comments — both serious and silly — about their appearance, their personality and even their gender. Not very helpful; sometimes very hurtful. Just remember that your professors are counting on you to help them develop as teachers.

The deans are the supervisors of your faculty. As academic administrators, they have to ensure that programs meet the stated outcomes. But they also are the encouragers of your professors in their professional development. They need your evaluation of courses with faculty for whom they are responsible.

At the end of every academic year, each full-time faculty member sits down with his or her dean to review the past year and to make plans for the next year. Teaching is one of three key areas that faculty and their deans discuss at this year-end interview. You should know that the deans read the results of all the course evaluations — every word. Faculty and their deans make decisions about their professional development with input from several sources, especially your course evaluations. Just remember that your deans are counting on you to help them encourage their faculty as teachers.

Students are as important as instructors in the evaluation process. Yes, the evaluation is an exit survey of sorts. But future students — your peers, dorm mates, siblings — will eventually also take these courses; your responses and comments will impact the quality of their learning experience. Letting your professor know what you found meaningful in the course ensures that students after you will enjoy the same. Your evaluation is not just about this past semester; your evaluation will shape the course and the professor in the future. Just remember that both your fellow students and your own future self are counting on you to keep courses challenging, rewarding, useful, engaging and fulfilling.

Above all, you owe it to yourself to take course evaluation seriously. This is an opportunity for you to reflect on what you have learned, how you have learned it and how you have been shaped as a student. It’s called “Evaluation of Instruction,” but you could also think of it as your “Evaluation of Learning.” When you’re asked to rate the professor in some area of instruction, ask yourself how you would rate in that area. For instance, one question asks about how prepared the professor was for each class. How prepared were you for class? Did your level of preparedness, good or bad, make a difference to your learning? Another question asks about integration of Christian perspective with teaching. Did you work hard at connecting your faith with your learning? Before you respond to the question about the professor’s availability, ask yourself: “How available was I to help my classmates?” This semester, I challenge you to consider the questions of the evaluation form in relation to yourself, your learning and your contribution to the course.

Before you write a comment or fill in a bubble on the Scantron sheet, think about your professor and his or her dean who will be reading it. And think about your own learning style, personal preferences, likes, and dislikes. Perhaps put them aside and give yourself a little evaluation first. Now that would be taking course evaluation very seriously, indeed.