It is important to remember that student feedback is not the only form of evidence which you can use to evaluate your own courses. Other evidence includes:
- A review of what students have learned (as evidenced in exam performances, for example)
- Your own experiences in teaching the course
- Discussion with colleagues or a Teaching Advisor
- Feedback from past students of the course.
Student feedback on teaching should ideally be considered alongside other forms of evidence and should not be taken as the only way to determine the ‘quality’ of a course.
Responding to student feedback
When you get student feedback in an indicative evaluation you should:
- Take enough time: set aside enough time to review the evaluation results – don’t try to do it in a few ‘stolen’ moments.
- Look at the response rate and the number of comments: if the response rate or the rate of comments is low, then you are more likely to get extreme (untypically negative or untypically positive) results. Higher response rates give a better representation of the overall picture.
- Look for patterns: for example, you can read through the comments once to see what the major themes are and then go through them a second time to find out how often each theme is mentioned. Remember that hurtful comments can attract your attention, but they may not be very representative.
- Discuss the feedback with students: the regulation on teaching evaluation does require that the teacher discusses the evaluation results with the students before the end of the semester. This can be done through presenting the major themes to students at the first class after the evaluation period. You can highlight points you are taking on board, points you disagree with, and points you don’t understand. You can also ask students to vote on whether or not they agree with a point or whether they think it is important.
- Discuss the feedback with a colleague or a teaching advisor: talk through the comments and your views on them with a colleague. Teachers who discuss feedback are more likely to improve their teaching, when compared to teachers who review their feedback alone.
- Don’t take it personally: when students criticise teaching it can feel as if they are criticising you personally. Try to focus on what the feedback says about what you do (not about who you are).
Dealing with harsh or hurtful comments
Students are reminded on the indicative evaluation questionnaire that they should not make comments which are hurtful or impolite. While the vast majority of students respect this, a minority do not. In the case of harsh or hurtful student feedback, remember:
- Almost all teachers – no matter how well they teach – have got hurtful feedback at one time or another. You are not alone!
- Your students are like any group of people – some may be rude, many are not. Remember that harsh or hurtful comments are not the views of your class as a whole, only the views of that individual.
- Some students may be hurtful in order to get a response from you (on internet message boards this is called “being a troll”). Giving those students prominence (e.g. by showing the comment to the whole class) may simply encourage them. On the other hand, it can be helpful to remind students in class that balanced feedback is more likely to have a positive effect than harsh or hurtful comments.