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Teaching evaluations

Research has suggested that one way to encourage students to complete course evaluations is to illustrate their importance by giving examples of how instructors have used their course evaluations to improve their teaching.

The student evaluations from very early on in my teaching career said I taught too quickly. With that in mind, I asked an external observer to come in to the class, observe and make suggestions. I made some pretty dramatic changes early on based on the student feedback and the peer observer's suggestions.

- Steven Furino

I taught Pure Mathematics (PMATH) 334 - Rings and Fields with Applications many years ago, and gave quizzes every Friday at the beginning of lecture. I deliberately made the quizzes easy, aiming to make them completable in 10 minutes, but I gave the students 20 minutes to actually complete them. Most students finished after 10 minutes, but there were always a few stragglers that took the entire 20. At the end of term, I got scads of complaints about the quizzes on the evaluations, complaining that they were useless and annoying. One student wrote, in large letters, “QUIZZES ARE FOR FIRST YEARS”.

The feedback clearly showed that the students did not enjoy the quizzes. However, I had observed during the term that the students were only frustrated and annoyed during the time they had to wait for other students to finish. So when I taught the course again the following year, I again did quizzes on Fridays at the beginning of lecture (the same quizzes!), but gave the students only 10 minutes to complete them. At the end of term, the students were enthusiastic about the quizzes, many of them saying how much they enjoyed them and how much the quizzes enhanced their learning in the course.

None of the students ever complained that they had too much time to complete the quizzes. But I think the evidence is clear that they did. I think of this as evidence of the importance of understanding the true meaning of student comments, and not getting sidetracked by what the students actually say.

- David McKinnon

I used to get comments along the lines of "assignments are unrelated to lectures". Now, in at least one course I teach, each assignment question is followed by a little blurb that comments on the theme it addresses, skill it reinforces, or concept it tests. They are nice little teaching moments that make explicit what I used to perhaps naively hope would be automatically deduced. Moreover, they force me to think ever more critically about exactly what questions to ask. An example from a Computer Science (CS) course in which students have to write a little mathematical function:

Care needs to be taken when writing applications because, while integers are stored precisely, real numbers are represented by possibly imprecise approximations. This is especially true when working with very large numbers (e.g., astronomy) and very small numbers (e.g., quantum physics).

- J.P. Pretti

Teaching evaluations provide me with very valuable feedback. From them, I have learned what is effective and what is not, telling me what I must continue doing, and what I must improve. Comments I have read in students evaluations forced me to improve my use of the blackboard. Other encouraged me to keep being available for students and to keep learning names. Both positive and negative comments are useful to me, as long as they are fair.

- Benoit Charbonneau

I have definitely used my evaluations to try and improve my courses. When I first started some students commented on my lecturing speed, i.e. that I sometimes spoke too fast. This made me more aware of my speed. I have removed things from my slides which helps slow me down because I now have more to write, and I repeat important statements twice or more in class to ensure that everyone is able to take note of them. This was mainly with my STAT 230 and STAT 202 course.

I also teach HSG 605/KIN 631. For this course students noted that firstly they would like more examples related to their field. I did some research to find more examples for them. They also noted that they would like more structured notes and I am currently working on these.

- Dina Dawoud

Reza Ramezan discusses the value of midterm teaching evaluations.