Student Evals: The Good, the Bad, and the Incomprehensible

I’ve been a university lecturer for almost a decade now and, in those 20+ semesters of teaching, I have experienced the full spectrum of student evaluation responses.  At the end of each semester, students are asked to complete an online survey asking for their opinions about my quality as an instructor, the quality of the course, and a few other general questions answered using a scale of 1 – 7.

And does my mind focus on the 60%+ of students who loved the course? No, my mind instead burrows into questioning who that one student was who hated me. Er, I mean the course.

Then, they are given the freedom to answer two further questions in an open-ended forum:

What helped you learn in this course?

                   What changes would improve your learning?

Not surprisingly, this is where some students let the anonymity of the feedback venue remove their filter of humanity and thoughtfulness. Instead of writing about their learning experience they. . .well, they talk about my clothes. And my body.  And the way I say certain words. Oh, and my hair.

This isn’t going to be a blog about gender and student evaluations (you can read a great post about that on Slate here, one from The Guardian here,  and an interactive graph displaying Rate My Professors data here), although I can provide anecdotally that the male colleagues I’ve tried to commiserate with about students’ comments on our outward appearances seem to have no context for the experience.  One even said to me, “Why would they talk about my clothes?”

Why, exactly.

Instead, today I’m going to focus on three different types of student evals, just to give a review of what comes across any (female) instructor’s desk at the end of a semester.

Below are some examples of what I encountered in my student evals over the past three semesters.

The Good: What helped you learn? 

All of the examples and videos that we watched in class really helped me understand topics we were learning in class more. Also, the Q & A’s were really helpful with reviewing class material.

There wasn’t any out-of-date information. Most everything covered in class was up-to-date.

The instructor made all of the topics really clear by using clear and relevant examples, also the instructor does a great job at keeping students engaged.

My comments to all three: Yes! All of those hours spent searching through new research publications, combing for relevant clips, and racking my brain for examples to demonstrate concepts did not go to waste. I did my job.

The Bad: What would you change? 

Not much. I could see that the professor’s tone changed over the semester. It started off a little cold and distant but got better later.

My comment: Isn’t that the natural course of any relationship?

New professor.

My comment: Well then–I can see why you circled 1. Granted, this doesn’t give me much to go on for improvement.

I would hope next time around she would upload the power points online and have more detailed notes. If you miss one class you pretty much have no way of getting the notes unless a class mate gives them to you.

My comment: Yes, this is typically how classes work.

The Incomprehensible: What would you change?

You should stop highlighting your hair.  Go for a deep chestnut or, if you want to get a little crazy, even a red!

My comment: Do I even need to give my thoughts on this one?  I imagine you, dear reader, can feel them through your screen already.

She talks to us like she knows more than us.  I don’t like being talked down to.

My comment: Why would you take a class from someone if you knew more on the topic than they did?

The first day of class, she mentioned that she ‘bought’ her children.  I found that really rude and inappropriate to say. She ruined the class for me. 

My comment: In the adoptive family community, we refer to the experience of ‘getting’ our children, as in “When we got our children. . .” or the celebration of “Gotcha Day” (I did talk about this in class, you know.  Our family celebrates it every year. I showed you and your classmates pictures of our family festivities. Seriously, you don’t remember?) We do this because, unlike biological families, adoptive families did not give birth to their children and cannot say “When my child was born. . .” But thank you for basing your entire opinion of me on one misinterpreted syllable.

And one bonus:

You need to get off your pedal stool.

My comment: This was received from a colleague of mine–we’ll call her Jane. Her reply: Will do.


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