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Documenting Teaching: Student Provided Data
Students can tell us a lot about our teaching. For instance, they can tell the extent to which we treat them respectfully, communicate clearly, and come across as well-organized. They also have a good sense of how well our assignments and teaching strategies help them learn.
But there are other areas where students may be biased, or where they are simply not qualified to judge. For instance, a student who is looking for an "easy grade" may feel that an instructor's perfectly reasonable expectations are "too high." And most students aren't equipped to judge the extent to which the professor knows the subject matter.
Although student evaluation forms are the most common and familiar ways to gather student-provided data, evidence from student interviews and informal student feedback can be useful as well.
Evidence from Approved Student Evaluation Forms
The advantage of using student evaluation forms is that they are relatively efficient means of gathering student opinions. And a well-constructed questionnaire, when combined with other sources of information, can provide helpful data.
In many departments, the recently approved University Student Assessment of Teaching (USAT) form will be a reasonable choice of instruments. No standard form is perfect, however, and if your department is not satisfied with the USAT, it is possible to use other means of gathering student feedback. The only requirement is that your department have its own form or method approved by the college dean.
Note: Under North Dakota law, summary reports on student evaluations are public property and must be made available to students or others who request them. If you use the standard form and have it processed by the University, the summary data may be released to students for publication on the Pick-a-Prof website. Technically, this is true of other forms as well, though the students have no plans at present to seek data collected by individual departments for their own use.
Regardless of the means of gathering student feedback, or the kind of instrument used, it is good to know both the strengths and limitations of student evaluations. For a brief summary of what the literature tells us, as well as a short list of useful readings on the subject, please visit our Student Evaluations of Teaching page.
Evidence from Student Interviews
Generally speaking, the use of student rating forms is not recommended for classes with fewer than ten students. Not only does the small size skew the data analysis, but students may not feel as confident about the anonymity of their responses in small classes.
In these situations, departments may want to gather information through interviews with students.
Informal Student Feedback
Of course student evaluation forms and formal interviews are not the only sources of student-provided data. Informal feedback from students can be pertinent to the evaluation process as well.
Formative Feedback. When instructors gather feedback from students during the semester, that feedback is primarily for formative purposes--that is, it is designed to find out what students are learning and how they are responding to the class, while there is still time to make adjustments. But it's important to remember that informal student feedback can make note of what the University policy says about this:
"In addition to soliciting formal feedback for summative purposes, faculty are encouraged to solicit frequent informal feedback for purely formative purposes--that is, for the sole purpose of improving teaching and learning. Informal feedback may take the form of SGIDs, informal surveys, or other classroom assessment techniques and may be used by the individual teacher as he or she sees fit. Unless and until the instructor chooses to offer such data to evaluators, it should not be part of the evaluation process."
Note: In the case of SGID reports, it is important to understand that these are not meant to provide summative data on teaching for purposes of evaluation:
Because the SGID is a confidential report designed to give formative feedback to the instructor, no one besides the instructor sees it. No copy of the report is kept, either by the consultant or OID. (While consultants file a final report to indicate that an SGID was completed, the instructor's name does not appear with this record-keeping data.)
The SGID is definitely not to be used as an instrument to evaluate teaching. Although an instructor may choose to refer to or quote from an SGID report in a teaching portfolio, to explain how he or she responds to student feedback, the report itself should not be included. The reason for this is to help insure that the SGID process remains confidential and that the results of the process are used only by the instructor, for the purpose of improving teaching and learning in the class.
Student Feedback to Others. When students feel they cannot talk to the instructor, they may offer important feedback on teaching to another faculty member or the department chair. This can create a delicate situation. On the one hand, evaluation shouldn't be based on second-hand reports and casual office conversations. On the other hand, students may have legitimate complaints that the evaluation committee needs to be aware of.
Probably the best way to handle this situation is to refer such student reports to the chair or a designated departmental "ombudsman." That way, informal reports can be documented in writing and raised with the faculty member during the evaluation process. It's important to be very careful with this kind of evidence, though, since it can be easily misused.