Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog, Suraj Uttamchandani, who has been our Mosaic Research Intern since 2016, and is currently a Learning Sciences doctoral candidate at Indiana University. Suraj shares his take on how instructors can use student evaluations to get feedback on their experiences not only in your course but also in your active learning classroom.
As the semester gets underway, it can be useful to have end-of-course evaluations in mind as you plan and start a new course. Although it may seem early to consider end-of-course evaluations, thinking about them now can help make sure you get feedback about important changes in your courses to know how effective they were. In general, these evaluations can be helpful tools for understanding students’ perceptions of your teaching and of their own learning. If you’re teaching in an active learning classroom (or any classroom), they can also be a useful instrument to help make sense of how students are experiencing the classroom space as it intersects with your course material and pedagogy.
At IU, instructors can add a limited number of specific questions to their online course questionnaires (OCQs). While we shouldn’t rely solely on student evaluation as measures of teaching effectiveness, adding targeted questions about how students are interacting with their learning environment can help generate useful and specific feedback to improve teaching. They can be a useful resource when you add your own targeted questions.
Across these questions, you can ask about specific assignments or activities. Be careful, though, to make sure that you are asking questions that will be fresh on students’ minds; if you do a gallery walk activity in January, you may not get useful feedback on that in May. Instead, target the questions at things that students are likely to remember, such as major assignments (midterms), overall assessment structures, or everyday classroom things (like weekly journal entries).
Consider quantitative questions. These tend to be best for measuring student attitudes in your classroom, especially if you have a large class. They provide a quick “at a glance” way of seeing how students felt about class. An easy structure for such a question is a “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” scale associated with a statement. For example, one semester I asked students to rate how much they agreed with the statement “Sometimes I feel like my instructor and I are on opposing teams in this class,” which helped me better understand how students perceived our relationship. (This question was borrowed from the SCALE survey, here: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1164634.pdf).
Here are examples of quantitative questions that are specific to the classroom space and features (each is responded to on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”):
- Using Solstice helped me better understand what my classmates were thinking.
- The way this classroom space was set up was helpful for my learning.
- The daily “think, pair, share” activities helped me understand material better.
Qualitative questions are especially helpful for determining student attitudes, as a class, toward how you use your classroom space and features.
You can also ask qualitative questions. Unless students complete their culminating assignment before finals week, be careful not to ask about the final exam, as the OCQs must be completed before finals week.
Here are examples of qualitative questions that are specifically about the classroom space:
- Which, if any, technologies that we used this semester (e.g., Solstice, screen-sharing, google docs) best supported your learning?
- What did you like most about the physical setup of our classroom space?
- What did you like least about the physical setup of our classroom space?
- Compared to other courses you have had at IU, what, if anything, stands out about how our classroom space was organized?
Don’t be afraid to be creative! It’s OK if a question doesn’t get the responses you’re expecting, so try it out. For example, a qualitative question could be “What is one piece of advice you would give future students in this course?” These answers can inform your future teaching, highlighting something you need to change, but can also be something you share with future students on the first day of class. For an added bonus, in this way the OCQ also becomes a useful reflective opportunity for students as they engage in metacognitive evaluation of their own performance throughout the semester.
Ultimately, OCQs can help instructors reflect on their own teaching by shedding light on how students are experiencing the classroom. OCQs are most useful when everyone completes them, rather than merely those with strong opinions, be them positive or negative. I like to put the students’ response on the monitor, which shows how many students have completed the OCQ, up on the projector (especially easy to do in an active learning classrooms). At the start of the penultimate class, ask students to complete the OCQ and leave the room for 10 minutes; then, come back and refresh the monitor, repeating until all are complete. Doing this at the start of class, rather than the end, made a big difference for me.
For Indiana University instructors, the option to add questions to your OCQ will arrive in your inbox about 4 weeks before the end of the semester. This year, you might consider asking students a question about how the classroom space or features (and how you use them) influences their experience in your course.
Do you have any questions you add to your OCQ? Share your examples in the comments below!
For more from Suraj, follow him on twitter: @_SurajUttam
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