Doing More with Course Evaluation Feedback

Using end-of-course evaluation results to improve a course isn’t always easy. Generally, the results are delivered after the fact. The course is over. The students are gone. That rules out any chance of making adjustments during the course, and it rules out clarifying any confusing aspects of the feedback. Perhaps, then, it isn’t all that surprising that a lot of faculty members, 77 percent according to McDonnell and Dodd, don’t change any aspect of the course based on the feedback, and those who do make changes tend to change very specific things, like the pace of the lectures. Other research documents that rating results remain stable: they don’t change all that much, which could also be indicative that not much is changing in the course.

What if a faculty member decides to solicit feedback from students during the course and implement some changes based on their recommendations? That’s the question McDonnell and Dodd tackled in interesting research project. Students in an upper-division psychology course on perception provided evaluative feedback to the instructor four times during the course. Three times, they used a course feedback form that asked for their overall impressions of the course and if there were certain aspects of the course they’d like changed. At the end of the course, they also completed the formal end-of-semester rating form.

The aspects of the course that could be changed were identified during a brainstorming session conducted early in the course. They included things like having more quizzes, more partner discussions during class sessions, more class discussion, and fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint slides during lectures, among others. Based on student feedback, three changes were identified, voted on by the class, and then implemented by the instructor: more supplementary videos shown in class, sample multiple-choice questions provided and answered at the end of each lecture, and more real-world examples included in the lectures.

Giving students multiple opportunities to provide feedback and then implementing their recommended changes produced a set of positive results in the course. More than 90 percent of the students indicated that the three changes improved the course. As has been observed in other work on instructional change, if students recommend a change, they have a stake in its success.

Second, student assessments of the instructor, the course, and how much they learned were all higher in the semester when the multiple evaluations occurred than in a previous section where they were not used. However, only the differences in ratings of the instructor reached a statistically significant level. For two of the three exams administered in the course, students outperformed those in the fall section who did only the end-of-course rating. Students responded favorably to this use of ratings, indicating they hoped other faculty would adopt the approach.

This study builds on work done during the 1980s and 1990s that showed that use of midcourse evaluations frequently results in higher end-of-course evaluations. That research also documents the value of instructors sharing evaluation results with students, which happened in this study as well. These conversations show students that faculty their feedback seriously. They benefit the instructor by providing an opportunity to ask students about input that may be confusing or contradictory. It can be a process that teaches students the value of constructive feedback. They also learn how difficult it is for instructors to use policies and practices that work equally well for all students. In McDonnell and Dodd’s study, the changes that were implemented were relatively small. That they had fairly dramatic effects shows the power of involving students in decision making about the structure of the course.

Technology now makes it easy to solicit and tabulate rating feedback. Doing so during the course can potentially improve the teaching and the learning, which is more than can be regularly said for end-of-course feedback.

Reference: McDonnell, G. P., & Dodd, M. D. (2017).  Should students have the power to change course structure?  Teaching of Psychology, 44(2), 91–99.

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Using end-of-course evaluation results to improve a course isn't always easy. Generally, the results are delivered after the fact. The course is over. The students are gone. That rules out any chance of making adjustments during the course, and it rules out clarifying any confusing aspects of the feedback. Perhaps, then, it isn't all that surprising that a lot of faculty members, 77 percent according to McDonnell and Dodd, don't change any aspect of the course based on the feedback, and those who do make changes tend to change very specific things, like the pace of the lectures. Other research documents that rating results remain stable: they don't change all that much, which could also be indicative that not much is changing in the course.

What if a faculty member decides to solicit feedback from students during the course and implement some changes based on their recommendations? That's the question McDonnell and Dodd tackled in interesting research project. Students in an upper-division psychology course on perception provided evaluative feedback to the instructor four times during the course. Three times, they used a course feedback form that asked for their overall impressions of the course and if there were certain aspects of the course they'd like changed. At the end of the course, they also completed the formal end-of-semester rating form.

The aspects of the course that could be changed were identified during a brainstorming session conducted early in the course. They included things like having more quizzes, more partner discussions during class sessions, more class discussion, and fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint slides during lectures, among others. Based on student feedback, three changes were identified, voted on by the class, and then implemented by the instructor: more supplementary videos shown in class, sample multiple-choice questions provided and answered at the end of each lecture, and more real-world examples included in the lectures.

Giving students multiple opportunities to provide feedback and then implementing their recommended changes produced a set of positive results in the course. More than 90 percent of the students indicated that the three changes improved the course. As has been observed in other work on instructional change, if students recommend a change, they have a stake in its success.

Second, student assessments of the instructor, the course, and how much they learned were all higher in the semester when the multiple evaluations occurred than in a previous section where they were not used. However, only the differences in ratings of the instructor reached a statistically significant level. For two of the three exams administered in the course, students outperformed those in the fall section who did only the end-of-course rating. Students responded favorably to this use of ratings, indicating they hoped other faculty would adopt the approach.

This study builds on work done during the 1980s and 1990s that showed that use of midcourse evaluations frequently results in higher end-of-course evaluations. That research also documents the value of instructors sharing evaluation results with students, which happened in this study as well. These conversations show students that faculty their feedback seriously. They benefit the instructor by providing an opportunity to ask students about input that may be confusing or contradictory. It can be a process that teaches students the value of constructive feedback. They also learn how difficult it is for instructors to use policies and practices that work equally well for all students. In McDonnell and Dodd's study, the changes that were implemented were relatively small. That they had fairly dramatic effects shows the power of involving students in decision making about the structure of the course.

Technology now makes it easy to solicit and tabulate rating feedback. Doing so during the course can potentially improve the teaching and the learning, which is more than can be regularly said for end-of-course feedback.

Reference: McDonnell, G. P., & Dodd, M. D. (2017).  Should students have the power to change course structure?  Teaching of Psychology, 44(2), 91–99.