Did you teach last semester? If so, you likely have feedback from your faculty evaluation forms awaiting your attention. Parsing out feedback from evaluation questionnaires is an annual challenge for all university instructors.  It was the topic of a Faculty Focus article by Isis Artze-Vega, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Florida International University. She offered solid advice for those of who feel angst over student evaluations

Dr. Artze-Vega suggests seven key approaches to responding to student evaluations.

  1. First, she advises faculty to analyze the data. The Education Team routinely does this for course evaluations for course directors and the Course and Faculty Review Committee, but not for individual faculty evaluations. Analyzing comments is a great starting point; otherwise, human nature often has people hyper-focusing on the wrong things. Are you reading an outlier opinion, or is there a theme in multiple students’ comments? “Identifying themes will help you determine whether they warrant a response,” Artze-Vega writes.
  2. Ask any actor or director and they’ll tell you: negative feedback is easy to remember. American film director Peter Farrelly has said: “With all of my films, if I get one bad review and a bunch of good reviews the bad one is the only one that will stay with me.” Artze-Vega cautions to resist the lure of the negative. Don’t automatically dismiss a negative comment, but “consider: Am I focusing on this because it’s ‘louder,’ or because it’s a legitimate concern?”
  3. Considering feedback this way flows into Artze-Vega’s third key: Let your critics be your gurus. Citing a New York Times article, she points out that, “we often brood over negative comments because we suspect they may contain an element of truth.”
  4. A fourth approach is to find counter-evidence to negative comments. You can look for or remember comments that contradict the negative one. (If your faculty evaluation report is anything like some course evaluation reports, sometimes, you’ll find these comments in the same evaluation report from other students).
  5. Artze-Vega stresses that “we should devote at least as much time to students’ positive comments as their negative ones,” so her fifth key is dwell on the positive ones. If you hyper-focus on negative feedback, you can lose sight of the many things you are likely doing well – and that students appreciate.
  6. To aid in this, she further advises to read them with a friend. “A more objective party can help you make sense of or notice the absurdity of the comments because they’re not as personally invested in them.”
  7. Finally, Artze-Vega advises to be proactive. “If you don’t conduct this analysis yourself, you’ll be at the mercy of whomever is charged with your evaluation—and they probably won’t be as thorough,” she points out. “Also, take the time to provide explanations about any off-the-wall student complaints, so that your reviewers don’t draw their own conclusions.” 

To all of this, I’d add: having read through your feedback, what’s your plan? What will you keep doing? What will you change? How will you do that? If you teach in the Queen’s UGME program and would like some assistance in using student feedback to improve your teaching practice, I’m available to assist you with this. Drop me an email. Reach me at theresa.suart@queensu.ca

Because good advice is worth repeating, this is based on a post from January 12, 2015