This is a post from the “Tip of the Week” series by Richard Lyons which is no longer available, although it is archived on Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine. Below this is a link to the full original tip at Internet Archive.
Improving Your Teaching Through Analysis Of Student Evaluations
Over the past several decades, colleges and universities have increasingly initiated formal procedures through which their students are encouraged to rate their courses and instructors’ performance. Most employ a Likert scaled set of questions that appear on a form, along with space for students’ individually worded comments. Since student evaluations are often the primary, and in many cases the only method of evaluation of your classroom performance, it is critical that you understand their rationale and manage the process as productively as possible to improve your teaching effectiveness.
As stated in an earlier tip, we very much encourage conducting several “informal” student evaluations throughout the term. This practice will not only provide you more timely feedback — while you still have time to make corrections that you deem appropriate — but also the opportunity to have students vent frustration that might otherwise be overblown on the final formal evaluation.
Formal student evaluation procedures are normally designed to protect the anonymity of students. Therefore, be sure to follow all stated procedures, such as leaving the room while the evaluation is conducted, so that students feel free to make comments. This also eliminates the chance that anyone can accuse you of undermining the process. When introducing the evaluation process to your class, be sure to set a positive tone and encourage students to make comments on their forms that have sufficient detail to maximize your understanding. Make it clear which student should collect the completed forms — I’ve always thought having a rather withdrawn student perform this task, rather than one who might be perceived as your “pet” by some — and deliver them to their appropriate destination.