Saturday, November 22, 2008

Course Evaluations

With the end of the semester approaching, we've got course evaluations coming up. While the list of questions that every class gets its pretty decent, I like to add some more personalized questions to my evaluations. Currently what I've got is:
  1. What feedback can you offer about the webwork system? Are there changes you would like to see, concerning the interface or features? How could it be made more useful for you?
  2. How did you feel about the combination of webwork and written homework? Did you feel they were fairly balanced?
  3. What parts of our course Collab page did you use, besides homework assignments? Did you look at homework or exam solutions? Did you follow any of the additional links under resources? In what ways do you wish Collab had been used differently?
  4. Were there certain topics or sections you felt were taught particularly well or particularly poorly?
  5. Is there anything you wish you would have been told about the class, before it started? What advice would you give to a future student of this course?
  6. What changes do you think Nick could make to improve this course?
I guess for these first few questions to make sense, you might like to know a few things about my course. In addition to written homework, consisting of problems from the textbook, I also use WebWork, which is an online math homework system. I pick collections of problems every week that the students complete online. This cuts down on grading, but still gives the students a chance to do problems for points. Collab is UVAs course management... system, it's 'Powered by Sakai'. I post homeworks, old exams, exam solutions, and some miscellaneous links there.

My questions for you: What do you look for in a course evaluation? What questions return the most meaningful answers for you, as an instructor? What questions, as a student, do you wish were asked?

Update 20081129:
I thought up another question: Did you use any external sources to help you in this class? For example, books besides the textbook, or any websites? If so, what did you use, and to what extent?


zifnabxar said...

As a student, I think that your questions are pretty good. I really can't think of too much too add.

The trick (I'd think) is too get the students to take the evaluations seriously. Sadly a lot of times it's a bit hard to for us because we just end up having to answer the same questions 2 or 3 times per class.

Anonymous said...

As an instructor...

I've found that when I give out "answer these questions about things I think I need to work on" surveys, I don't really learn much because I'm already leading them. I already know where I think I did poorly or where things aren't working out -- which is why I am asking the questions in the first place.

I've started asking students to write 2-3 paragraphs (totally anonymous) about my teaching and my course and anything else they think is relevant.

From these, I learn a lot more -- I see what students find important to comment on. (You asked, for example, if the homework were fair and balanced... but if it were a real problem, students will probably end up writing about it.)

They say things I would expect, and more importantly, things I never noticed about the course/my teaching.

You do end up losing out on those specifics you want answered (e.g. topics taught well or poorly), so it is a bit of a trade off.

I really do like your "what advice would you give to a future student of this course" question. I ask students -- at a different time from course evaluations -- to write a letter to themselves at the beginning of the year (e.g. "don't freak out about college; you'll get in and end up being really happy!") with things they wish they had known for this course. They are always really funny and interesting -- and then I share excerpts from them to my students in the next year. ("Mr. Shah doesn't give extra credit, so don't even bother asking." "Studying at the last minute doesn't work, trust me.")

sumidiot said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys.

@zifnabxar I have noticed the repetitiveness of the questions, which is annoying. I always feel like the canned questions are repetitive, and hope that mine don't overlap tooo much.

@samjshah That does sound like a trade-off, not leading the questions. Our school's Teaching Resource Center will run a Teaching Analysis Poll at any point mid-semester. What they do is have somebody come in to the class, and the instructor leaves, and they ask 'what is going well', 'what is going poorly', and 'what should be changed'. Or something along those lines. These seem flexible enough, along the lines of your 'write 2-3 paragraphs' solution. What I've found with this, and normal end-of-semester, evaluations, is that 1/3 of the class will say one thing, 1/3 will say approximately the opposite, and the remaining 1/3 won't comment, or will be non-commital. I guess that'll happen with 30-40 students in a class. But it's still frustrating, trying to accomodate for such mixed results.