Making the Most of Your Course Evaluations

Course evaluations can be valuable tools for improving teaching and course design. Improving students’ rating of a course may also deepen the amount that students learn and can make a professor’s life in the classroom more pleasant.

Interpreting evaluations, however, can be difficult. As you read your evaluations, you may want to keep the following in mind:

  • Reading student evaluations can be stressful. Ask a friend or colleague to help you put the numbers into perspective. Many of us tend to remember the negative comments and miss the more general reactions.
  • Examine patterns. Often instructors focus on individual students who are deeply dissatisfied but those individual responses are often meaningless. Look for ratings that repeat even in less dissatisfied students. Do not fixate on outliers.
  • Remember that this is a dialogue. Evaluations should encourage you to reflect on your class but they are not the last word.
  • Students often appreciate a challenge – IF they feel the course has given them the tools to meet that challenge. Difficult courses by themselves do not automatically produce low (or high) evaluation numbers.
  • Get other feedback. Student evaluations alone are not the only measure of your abilities as a teacher. You may want to consider having other faculty observe your class or review your syllabi or assignments.
  • Ignore small differences. If your student evaluations have dropped a few tenths of a point from last semester, you are not becoming worse as a teacher.
  • Visit the Center for Teaching and Learning to arrange for observations, get a recording of your teaching, or strategize about ways to respond to student evaluations.

Note that the format of the standard Penn evaluations focuses on numerical ratings, which can make using the forms as tools to improve your teaching difficult. If you would like more detailed, qualitative feedback from your students, either at the end of or during the semester, CTL had created an Open-Ended Form and a list of questions for that form that you can tailor to your own class.

Open Ended Course Evaluations