With Marleen Eyckmans & Chris Van Ginneken, UAntwerp - CIKO in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences

It can be uncomfortable to get the results of the student evaluations for a course you teach. What do the students have to say? Are the evaluations going to be ok?
It's often a bit nerve-racking, being evaluated like this by students, but it doesn't have to be. In this ECHO tip, we'd like to share a way to deal with student feedback in a meaningful way.

1. Analyse the results

Read the evaluation report or summary of the student evaluations in its entirety. The following questions might help you with the analysis:

  • Were there things that the students liked?
    Great! Were they the things you liked too?
  • Are there comments or low scores for things that the students might have found difficult?
    What changes could you make to your course to help them with that?
    Maybe something happened during the semester that you already know about? Chances are that the students will say something about that.
  • Are there any comments or low scores related to things decided by the Education Committee and which you, the teacher, can’t change?
    You can always pass those comments on to the chair of the Education Committee.
  • Are there any comments or low scores that really surprise you?
    Try to find out where these comments come from. Was something unclear? Or was there information on the Blackboard learning environment that was never discussed in class? Or something else?
    Talking to colleagues can also help you understand where certain comments or scores come from in student evaluations.
  • Do the students suggest changes that you think could really add value or improve your course?
    You might be able to start implementing them immediately (see also point 3). But keep in mind that not every group of students has the same expectations or preferences.  For example: one group might prefer a coursebook that is printed on both sides of the page, while another prefers more space to take notes. Decide for yourself which choices you want to make and communicate this clearly to the students.
  • Don't want to make the changes your students suggest?
    Give a reason for this: for example, because it would be more difficult to activate the learning or because certain learning objectives would no longer be tested sufficiently. Explain this to your students.

2. Inform students

By ensuring sufficient, transparent communication with your students, you can reduce the chance of misunderstandings surfacing in an evaluation afterwards. Tell the students why you do or don't do things in a certain way and they will often show more understanding than you might think.

Encouraging your students to complete the evaluation not only increases their sense of involvement but also gives you the chance to tell them how you will deal with their feedback. Usually, it also results in a higher response to your evaluation.

Students took the time to fill in your evaluation. Will you see this group of students again next academic year? Briefly explain in the first lesson what you did with their feedback and why. Even students who didn’t give feedback themselves and are just starting your course will benefit from this information. They appreciate the commitment and openness of lecturers who briefly explain to them how and why the course has (or has not) been changed in response to student feedback.

This way you can work together to co-create the best possible version of the course.

3. Work together with your programme or institution’s quality assurance staff

In general, lecturers only inform the quality assurance staff about what came out of the student feedback when a specific aspect is clearly in need of improvement. Not many people do this if the feedback is good or if there are just a few suggestions or comments. In both cases, however, feedback has added value, not only for the quality assurance staff but also for you as a teacher. For example, think about focus group discussions (focus group discussions are held with representative groups of students taking a study programme to find out what they think about different aspects of the quality of their education) – if the member of staff has been informed about decisions you made or organisational issues that affect your course, they will be better able to respond to the students’ questions. In short, well-informed quality assurance staff are worth their weight in gold!

Of course, you can always contact the quality assurance staff member for your programme or institution if you would like more information or help with redesigning your course, or to review your evaluations together.

If you have made major changes and want to check whether these changes are having the intended effect, or if you want to look at an aspect of student feedback in more depth, this is something you can do with the quality assurance staff member. For example, a questionnaire can be tailor-made for your students or a focus group discussion can be organised on a specific topic.


Want to know more?

Student Evaluations (University of Washington) 

Student Evaluations of Teaching (Vanderbilt University) 

Information about quality assurance at the University ofAntwerp (in Dutch)

Information available for staff members of the University of Antwerp (in Dutch):