Student evaluations: What's in it for me?

formatted headshot for T4 180x180
Dr. Ann Johnson, Faculty Development director

By: Dr. Ann Johnson, Faculty Development

It’s that time again – to administer the IDEA forms for student evaluation of teaching.  If you haven’t done it yet, do it soon!  Research suggests that it’s not advisable to wait until the last session. 
In a recent IDEA blog posting, Shelley Chapman suggests letting students know, before they begin filling out the forms, that you value their feedback.  You can even show them a sample feedback report and, if you use the long form, highlight the “suggested action” steps on page 3 that give tips for improving your teaching.  This communicates that you take their feedback seriously, as does administering the forms in an unhurried way at the beginning of class.

I’ve been thinking a lot about student evaluation of teaching recently and reading up on the research – some critical and some affirming its value for helping faculty improve teaching practices.  
Critic Stanley Fish (2005) claims he threw his student evaluation forms in the trash instead of administering them.   Many of us feel like doing the same from time to time, but it’s not a good idea -- for many reasons!   Whatever your feelings about them, we require that every course be evaluated by students, and five years ago we partnered with the IDEA Center, a nonprofit organization working with hundreds of colleges and universities to provide evaluation services and feedback based on 35 years of national norming and longitudinal data. 

I feel positive about our adoption of IDEA but lately have come to think we’re not optimizing its possibilities for giving faculty formative feedback about teaching.  The numerical data and comments are one thing, but IDEA also provides users of the long (diagnostic) form with excellent research-based recommendations for improving teaching.  Last Spring, for example, one of the “suggested actions” on my own feedback report was to increase use of teaching strategy #2: “Found ways to help students answer their own questions.”  IDEA research suggests that this strategy is linked to all the objectives I’d chosen for the course, yet only 57% of my students gave me a 4 or 5 on this item.  Not to despair.  Looking on the IDEA website, I found a research paper providing helpful hints for improving this particular aspect of my teaching.  I can also keep track of my improvement (I’m optimistic) over time by using the IDEA Faculty Excel Worksheet to record scores from one semester to the next, even over years.  This is a great tool and provides helpful data for your annual report, if you choose to use it.

Right now you’re too busy to think about how you’ll integrate the IDEA feedback you’ll receive in January; we’ll keep this information on our Faculty Development website for you to use later.  In the meantime, if you are feeling stressed about the end-of-semester crunch, take a minute to breathe and acknowledge the awesome impact you are having on student lives through your teaching.  Even as you administer those IDEA forms, you’re modeling commitment to excellence in your work – an impressive lesson in itself.

References & Resources

Fish, S. (2005). Who's in charge here? Chronicle of Higher Education, 51 (22), C2-C-3.

IDEA resources from Faculty Development 

IDEA Center research papers on instruction

IDEA Faculty Worksheet

«Back To From the Director