Translating students’ comments on course evaluations

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Navigating students’ comments could be one of the most challenging aspects of interpreting course evaluations. In an article in Innovative Higher Education, Linda Hodges and Katherine Stanton (2007) suggest using these comments as “windows into the process of student learning and intellectual development” rather than as reviews of “how they have been entertained” by an instructor.

Hodges is Director of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University; Stanton is the center’s assistant director. They point out that sometimes students’ comments stem from “students’ expectations of or prior experiences with college classes” that “entail teachers standing in front of the room ‘telling.’”

For example, is a comment like “I did not learn in this class because the teacher did not teach” evidence of a lack of effective teaching, or evidence that the style of teaching – including lots of team-based work – wasn’t what the student was expecting? Reframing student comments in this light can ultimately help improve teaching, Hodges and Stanton suggest.

“We may see our evaluations less as judgments of our performance and more as insight into our students’ intellectual growth—insight that may engage us in intellectual growth as teachers and scholars.”

Hodges, L.C., and Stanton, K. (2007). “Translating comments on student evaluations into the language of learning” in Innovative Higher Education 31:279-286.

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