Opinion: IDEA Course Evaluations

Teaching is hard; effective teaching is even more arduous. It is also exhilarating and exciting, especially when students experience those light bulb moments! Even though we are considered experts in our fields, teaching can sometimes be an unwieldy beast! Sure, we have all been to school and we know effective teaching when we see it, but it is difficult and time-consuming to put that prior exposure into practice. We do, however, have a tool at our disposal – evaluations!


As with any controversial issue, there are pros and cons of student evaluations, especially when they are used for tenure and promotion; however, my purpose is not to convince you that using student evaluations is a good or bad strategy. Rather, I am seeking to encourage you to usea tool that we have at our disposal to help us teach more effectively.


Generally, the students I have encountered at Tech have been bright, engaged, and interested in learning! They ask challenging questions, are willing to engage in actual dialogue with other classmates and me, and are willing to change their minds and see issues from different perspectives – in other words, most of my students are critical thinkers, and I believe they are equipped to offer evaluations of my classes. Since I want to use their evaluations, I take class time to help them fully grasp validity, which can be a tough topic to understand, especially in a time when invalid opinions are offered online constantly. Today’s environment is not conducive to critical thinking, so I would like to share a few things I do in my class to help students compose valid evaluations of my classes.


The first thing I do is encourage my students to offer honest, evidenced-based comments. I explain that general comments like I love this professor (or class), or I hate this professor (or class) are not very valuable to me because they do not include any evidence to support the comment. I remind them to always answer the whyquestion, so I can fully understand their comments and actually usethem to make my classes more effective. Since I have started speaking with students about this, their comments are much more useful, and I can actually use them to make changes that improve my classes.


The second thing I do is remind students of my course objectives and have them make the connection between class activities and objectives. These connections encourage my students to think critically about concepts and ideas explored; the students’ opinions and comments about the activities and course assignments are better informed, and therefore, more useful to me.


Finally, I use valid student evaluations to make my classes better – after all, learning is a process that works for me as well as for my students. I have found that making small changes can often result in a more effective class environment.


Whether you love them or hate them, I encourage you to use student evaluations to improve the learning environment for all.