Setting the Tone NOW: Engaging Students in your Course Evaluations

By Cherie Werhun, PhD, Teaching Assessment & Course Evaluation Coordinator, CTSI

Let’s be honest: Course evaluations are the last thing on an instructor’s mind in early September. Rather, this is the time when last minute course reading selections are being made, TA assignments are being worked out, and drafts of multiple versions of a course syllabus are being reviewed and reviewed and…

Here’s the thing, though. Thinking about the role course evaluations – or more broadly, student feedback – plays in your course now can play a significant role in how students respond to your request for it later.

Instructors who set the tone early – or who create a learning environment that integrates the student perspective and experience into both course design and delivery — tend to benefit at the end of term from students who see the value of providing feedback to their instructors.

Why? By integrating regular feedback opportunities into your course, students have direct evidence that their instructor actually reads and applies the student perspective into their teaching. They witness the value and impact of providing their feedback.

So, how can you as an instructor set the feedback tone early?

Consider a few basic tips:

1.    During your first class, when reviewing the course syllabus with your students, try to highlight changes to your course content, new readings, or activities, for example, that have resulted from previous student feedback. Similarly, when reviewing your course content and schedule, highlight aspects that you have worked on to enhance student understanding of the overall course material. In other words, explicitly show your students how their process for learning the course material is just as important to you as the content of the course material.

2.    At the end of your first class, consider handing out a brief questionnaire, or assigning a one-minute paper, asking students to provide their immediate impressions of the course content, the layout of the course, and/or any areas that they feel apprehension/excitement. During subsequent classes, be sure to mention their feedback and then specify how you are responding to it within the context of a specific class or the overall course.

3.    Consider placing brief opportunities for subsequent feedback throughout your course. For example, you might wish to hear what students thought of a film, a discussion activity, or a problem set. Ask them! Alternatively, you might wish to include a short mid-course feedback, as well. This shows your students that you are interested in their learning experience throughout the course, which provides an opportunity for you to monitor and adjust what you do.

Providing opportunities for your students to provide feedback about their learning of the course material – and then demonstrating how you respond to this feedback – creates the space within your course for reciprocal communication that will set the tone for final feedback when students are invited to complete course evaluations. Investing early in this process will ensure that students see the value and impact of their feedback immediately and throughout your course.

If you would like to consider other strategies to talk to your students about the importance of their feedback in your course, CTSI has a resource document on the Course Evals tab within Portal. Also, if you would like additional guidance, please connect with the Course Evaluations Team at course.evaluations@utoronto.ca. Have a great semester!

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