With end-of-term deadlines, grading turnarounds, and rapid student emails, it is easy to get overwhelmed in December. Then, when your inbox quiets and holiday chaos has begun, online course questionnaires (OCQs)—IUB’s version of student ratings of instruction—suddenly appear. If you’re like me, you stare at the email announcing their availability for a few days before clicking the link and breezing through the positive comments. You immediately find that comment. You know the one; it reappears as you write new syllabi, new essay prompts, and new projects. You repeat it to your friends at dinner, asking if they agree. You spend too much time running through your Canvas roster wondering which student could possibly say such a thing. If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, you might consider creating an OCQ Game Plan.
While OCQs are certainly not a foolproof way to assess your teaching, recent research demonstrates they can be used as a type of formative assessment that helps instructors cultivate an “improvement mindset,” leading to improved teaching. The OCQ Game Plan is exactly what it sounds like: a plan to meaningfully address student feedback by allowing yourself the space to recognize your own skills as an educator and utilizing those skills to improve your future courses. (If we’re going to dwell on the comments, we might as well dwell productively.) Creating a plan of action for approaching your evaluations can help you feel more confident and prepare you to identify and utilize constructive student feedback. While your plan should be unique to your own process, here are some ideas to get you ready for reading:
- Take time to breathe and reflect. Reflection is an important part of learning, and it is equally important for understanding our teaching. Reflecting on our own experience of our course can help us understand the course on our terms before being influenced by our students’ responses. What moments stand out to you? Do you believe your learning objectives were achieved? What places might need adaptation or adjustment? Additionally, a thoughtful reflection will help prepare us for the commentary we might receive.
- Designate a time and place where you will read and engage with your OCQs. Don’t step out of a New Year’s Eve party to scroll through them on your phone 25 minutes before the ball drops. Set up time to go to your office or your kitchen table; bring your favorite snacks and play some music. Committing to your OCQs means giving them appropriate time and space as you would with any of your other work duties.
- Strategize how you read through your many pages of responses. Just as we remind students to strategically take their exams, decide what information you want to receive first rather than deferring to the automated order. I prefer to read what my students enjoyed about the course first before moving on to my personal questions or the graphs about student work. You might also decide to read the set through once and return to it on a different day. Some instructors ask a trusted colleague to read through the responses first, summarizing a few key points or recurrent themes to help you focus your reading.
- Take notes. Approach your OCQs as a document you are using to improve your teaching. Take notes focused on what skills you showcased. Take notes on things you might like to change. Take reflection-based notes about how your personal reflections align with or move away from your students’ feedback. As Manya Whitaker from Colorado College writes, this may take some qualitative data analysis and “decoding” of student Give yourself enough time to fully engage.
- Make a list of actionable goals for future teaching. After you’ve taken time to read and take notes on your OCQ responses, think about goals for next term. Setting realistic, achievable goals will help you focus on your next course rather than dwell on unhelpful feedback. Emily Dosmar, of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, also suggests returning to these goals and reflections when you think about your OCQs rather than the OCQs themselves to promote positive self-talk and stay centered on actionable changes.
Online Course Questionnaires are a great resource for us to reflect on the ways we teach, but they can also be frustrating and uncomfortable if we do not approach them like the valuable (and heavily biased) tools they are. As this term comes to a close, I encourage you to generate an OCQ Game Plan that helps you approach your evaluations confidently and strategically.
Need a buddy for evaluating your OCQs or your end-of-term reflections? Reach out to the CITL for an individual consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References and further reading:
“Administering and Interpreting Course Evaluations.” Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University Bloomington.
Dosmar, Emily. “Course Evaluations as a Tool for Growth.” The Teaching Professor. 2021.
Hodges, L. C., and Stanton, K. “Translating comments on student evaluations into the language of learning.” Innovative Higher Education, 31, 279-286. 2007. (Also available via IUCAT.)
Weimer, Maryellen. “What Can We Learn from End-of-Course Evaluations?” The Teaching Professor. 2017.
Whitaker, Manya. “How to Make the Best of Bad Course Evaluations.’” Chronicle of Higher Education. 2019.