Student Course Evaluations: Are they worthwhile?

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So I finally found the time and admittedly the nerve to pick up and read my student evaluations for EDCI 336 from  last term. I promised myself that I would set up the scenario with the following parameters:

1. Read evaluations while experiencing  a high self-esteem trend.
2. Have someone available on speed dial if I need to banter about the results.
3. Read evaluations just before or just after a workout, tennis game, or exceptional bottle of wine.

Why so tentative?

Before obtaining my evaluations I talked to someone who I admire and aspire to be like (Em that’s you!) She’s the kind of person who is your multi-vitamin of life. She is full of joy, wisdom, perspective and with the precious capacity to listen. She said that her student evaluations were “brutal” very critical and full of comments that she deemed to be less than constructive.

My fear of experiencing a similar plight?

I gave it my all.

I don’t think given the same circumstances I could have worked any harder during this experience. Despite my best effort what if I failed? What if I somehow missed the connection?

So I’m well acquainted with failure and I find opportunities to proclaim the opportunities that failure awakens but when faced with the possibility of a teaching debacle it is truly uncomfortable..particularly when the edge is so fine between a great teaching/learning experience and a dismal one.

Walking to my car with the manila envelope tucked under my arm I felt the tension building so much so that upon arriving at my car I threw open the door, tore open the envelope and peered at the results. A confusing array of columns and numbers didn’t give me immediate clarity. I had to comb through mean, medians, standard deviations to condense my overall impression.

After a few minutes I breathed a sigh of relief. I reviewed a range of results from “Very Poor” to “Excellent” with more results on the “Excellent” side of the teeter totter than the “Very Poor”.

. …Exhale…  “Well at least I didn’t suck.”

No, not very mature is it? But I think I reveal the gnawing insecurity that educators who start their career today and those who have been teaching for over twenty years experience each time they dare to engage with this mystery called teaching. The teeter totter of engaged learning can be very unpredictable.

Did these evaluations help me in my pursuit to provide the best learning experience? Well, given the number of written responses trashing Twitter I likely won’t spend as much time badgering students about tweeting pedagogy. Other than a few minor modifications I’m not sure these evaluations are a valuable means of improving my practice.

I’m discovering that every group of students I encounter has its distinct characteristics and needs. I need to prepare presentations and activities that respond to the unique disposition of the class and learning styles during the course- while it still matters not after course has finished.  The most invaluable feedback I received was at the beginning and midway part of the term when I distributed an online questionnaire about the content, delivery and direction of the course. With this feedback I was able to make some changes to both the preparation and delivery of the course material. Next time maybe I’ll plan to canvass the class three times during the term or look for “mini-forms”  of feedback to see if this maintains or increases their engagement.


2 thoughts on “Student Course Evaluations: Are they worthwhile?

  1. It is not just the material that makes a course worth while. It is also the enthusiasm of the teacher. Your love of the material covered in this course was infectious! While not every idea was an “aha” moment, almost all of the tools you showed were novel to me so the exposure was valuable. It does not always matter if every idea is a hit with the students, some things are just valuable for students to be exposed to. Your course taught me a lot and that is valuable to me so thank you!

  2. You’re Welcome Karli,

    Disposition is critical to engagement. I have been fortunate to also learn from people passionate about their interests and fervent to share their experiences.

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