It’s nearing the end of the term—and that means course evaluations are looming. To be honest, I start thinking about course evaluations on the first day of class. I like to keep mental notes on my classes throughout the semester so that I have coherent comments to offer up at the end of each term. I’ve been mentally grading my teachers and classes since junior high. Lately, I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking on the evaluations themselves to try to understand their purpose and what I can do to make the most of them.
What do professors want?
In thinking about this post, my biggest question was—what do professors want from our evaluations? I reached out to a few professors that I know (across many different fields) and posted this question to them. The breakout theme? Specific comments. Professors want specific feedback on the negative AND positive elements of their class. If you didn’t like the syllabus—tell them exactly why. If a paper led to an epiphany about your career goals—say so. In many cases, the comments section of an evaluation form is preceded by a tedious list of ranking and fill in the blank questions. Don’t fizzle out and turn in the evaluation until you write something personal and specific to the professor.
Do they matter?
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had my ear to the ground listening to what students have to say about evaluations—the conversation is not much different than what I heard in undergrad. A lot of students are skeptical of course evaluations. Many feel that the ratings we give and the feedback we write doesn’t matter. To some teachers—they may not. While this is unfortunate, I still think that there are a lot of educators and institutions out there who want to effectively reach students. Help these teachers and universities out and give them solid comments and feedback to act on in future semesters. If there are legitimate concerns that need to be voiced about a teacher or class—consider speaking up in ways other than evaluations. Do your research and determine who you can talk to at your institution so that the issue can be properly addressed. If you feel comfortable with the instructor, and you think they’d be open to it—have a conversation with them about what you liked or did not like. A few professors I know welcome honest, face to face discussions about their courses. If you’re not sure about speaking directly with the instructor, talk to a mentor or advisor about how to proceed. I think evaluations have the potential to make the educational experience better—but they’re not the be all end all.
What can evaluations do for you?
When you’re filling out evaluation forms—don’t forget about what evaluations can do for you. In my own experience, course evaluations have been a way to understand what helps me to be successful in a class. Perhaps evaluations can help you to have healthy closure at the end of each semester—or vent a semester’s worth of frustrations. Whatever the case, figure out what you can get out of this reoccurring exercise and turn it into an opportunity instead of another chore. Happy evaluating.