Interpreting Student Course Reports

Browsing through a stack of student rating forms usually does not immediately suggest a particular direction for refinements in courses or teaching methods. Numerical ratings provide no insight into why students responded the way they did. Furthermore, when examining students' responses to open-ended questions, inevitably some seem happy and some seem unhappy about particular aspects of the course, and typically it is impossible (and some might say irrelevant) to satisfy everyone.

Approaching student course reports with a somewhat detached attitude, and fighting the natural tendency to fret about negative comments, can be the first step toward making good use of their feedback. Many experts on teaching development and evaluation believe that student ratings say less about teaching performance and more about how novices are viewing the discipline and the learning environment. Viewing student ratings constructively in this way can better guide course planning and choice of teaching methods.

There are at least two ways that student course reports can be made more useful, providing a sound basis and direction for teaching improvement efforts:

  1. Combining with Self-Evaluation Before reading student reports for a particular course, perform a brief self-evaluation. Even 15 minutes of reflection on your teaching goals, evidence of student learning, what went well, and what did not go well in the course can better guide your interpretation of student ratings, helping you decide what is more important and less important to address.
  2. Analyzing Student Course Reports Systematically Try separating them into piles of high and low ratings of the course or of your teaching. Then within those piles, look for patterns in comments or student demographics that might explain the differences in perspective. The outcome of this analysis should be a few areas or issues for improvement or further exploration.

Once some areas have been targeted for refinement, strategies or modifications in teaching methods may not be immediately obvious. Consider consulting with colleagues in your discipline who have been recognized as effective teachers. In addition, the Morgan Center has a large resource library and the Director can point you toward web resources. In addition, individual consultations can be arranged with the Morgan Center to review course report results and develop a feasible action plan.

The following resources are highly recommended and provide details on each of the above suggestions: