Earlier this week I read over all of the IDEA evaluations for the online courses. Coincidentally I am also reading Inspired College Teaching by Maryellen Weimer. Chapter 3, which I just finished, is Rewriting the End of Course Survey. It’s all about what you can and can’t learn from the end of course surveys and actually mentions IDEA by name. Following is a summary and interpretation of Weimar’s thoughts on evaluations.
What the ratings are: They are summative feedback about an educational experience relative to the many other educational experiences the students have had. Trends in the ratings can be more useful than a specific rating of a specific class, particularly in online courses where response rates tend to be very low. If 5 years of classes have spoken positively about your grading style and one class dislikes it you can and should reflect on that, but it may not be a change in your grading style at all. They provide a summary of student opinions regarding your teaching behaviors over the years.
What they are not: They do not provide a specific call to action. Ratings give you information for reflection. They typically do not give you specific changes to teaching behaviors. For example, students may decry your lack of communication. There are many ways to change your communication style. Deciding what specifically to change requires careful thought and reflection as well as discussion with peers.
So what should you do with your ratings? First, pull out the last five or six years of ratings. Look at them as a group. Do you see any trends? Are the trends going in the direction you want them to go in? Most of us think about our courses at the end of each semester and make changes to them. Can a student response to those changes be seen in the ratings? If it can’t, what other data could you find that would tell you if your changes are impacting student learning positively? Ratings are a jumping off point for general reflection about your teaching.
Next pick out one rating that you would like to see improve, say, “stimulated students to learn more about the content.” What specific teaching behaviors impact that? Choose 2 or 3 things you could do differently that would help you generate excitement about your content. How would you implement them? Can you implement them this summer? Give it a try!
If you are having trouble choosing one thing to change my advice for many faculty teaching online is to consider how you demonstrate instructor presence. Students in online courses frequently do not believe the instructor is really invested in their course. To convince them you are present and invested in the class and in their learning they need to see you in the course on a regular basis. There are clearly many ways to demonstrate instructor presence – email, discussions, announcements, grading/feedback, response time in general to name the obvious. Consider your teaching behaviors around these tools and choose one or two specific behaviors to modify for the summer. Be sure to decide how to evaluate the efficacy of your changes so you can decide in August if the new behaviors should be continued or if you need to try something else.
Student evaluations are one good source of feedback from students. They can help you decide how to change your courses and teaching.