Course Evaluations: Your Chance to Effect Change
Why does your Student Support Specialist email you near the end of each course, asking you to fill out your online course evaluations? Does anyone even look at them?
What are course evaluations?
Course evaluations are our primary way of getting student feedback within the College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS). They gauge what resonated with students, determine what may not have worked well, and identify opportunities for improvement.
While the specific course evaluations and formats may vary from program to program, questions follow the same general patterns. Questions may ask the student to rate their instructor’s interaction within the class, or whether the instructor was accessible and able to answer questions about course materials. However they may be worded, these evaluations will ask you about your experiences in that course and with that instructor.
All course evaluations use a combination of short answer text boxes and 1-5 Likert scales to evaluate particular aspects of the course.
Related article: How to Request your UNE Online Transcript
Course evaluations are 100% anonymous – forever
Many students don’t realize that course evaluations are designed to be completely anonymous. Anonymity is integrated right into the data collection process because course evaluations themselves are handled by a third party website, CoursEval.
Faculty members are not permitted access to their evaluations until after final grades have been submitted, and even after they are able to review their students’ evaluations, the names of the students are never divulged. In fact, those names are not revealed to anyone at any level in the UNE organization, ever. CourseEval keeps student names anonymous forever.
Why are course evaluations important?
Each of our programs evaluates every single course each time it’s held, which generates a great deal of actionable data. We use this data from student feedback to constantly improve the student experience.
Online course evaluations are used at nearly every level of our college, and in nearly every department. Program directors look at how well the course is functioning and use student feedback to aid in their decision-making process when considering whether to request a simple course update or to completely redesign a course. They also use the data for overall improvement on the program level. Course evaluation data influences their decisions around faculty evaluations and assignments, hiring new faculty, curricular considerations, course content, and even textbooks.
Future course assignments also are affected by course evaluations because they are a key way for program directors to determine which faculty members are excelling at teaching which course. One instructor may click with a particular approach or topic area – and when program directors see that, they make sure to assign that instructor to teach that course again.
Instructional designers, our in-house pedagogy experts, use these evaluations to ensure that students are finding the course engaging and productive for learning. Course evaluations also lend insight into whether course assignments should be changed or modified in order to make them more clear, what in particular about the assignment that can be changed or modified.
A suggestion for improvement in one program’s course may well be adopted in another program’s course. Because our program directors meet on a weekly basis, they are more closely connected than is the norm in most colleges. They share ideas, feedback, successes, and interesting assignments with each other so that all of the programs can benefit from the insight.
Example of changes as a result of student feedback
Small changes are implemented almost immediately. For example, in a new course, if a group finds the instructions for an assignment particularly confusing, the instructional designer will reevaluate and modify that assignment before the next course runs.
Larger initiatives like course rebuilds are also informed by course evaluations. Instructional design takes into consideration what students have reported that they enjoy and they build in more of those elements. This has resulted in more courses manipulating real datasets, working with simulation exercises, and building real-life examples and situations into more courses.
How long does a course evaluation take?
Each program tries to make sure that online course evaluations take between 7-15 minutes for students to complete. There are generally 10-20 questions, so the length of time it takes varies by person.
How long are course evaluations available?
Course evaluations open in Week 7 of our online courses, and they are left open up to one week after final assignments are due. Many students like the flexibility of submitting their evaluation as soon as it is made available, but some students have told us that they feel more comfortable evaluating a faculty member once the class is over. Just be sure to complete your evaluation before it closes.
Tips – how to give meaningful feedback
Two words: be specific. We value your honest and constructive feedback. Both faculty and staff take these course evaluations very seriously, and as such, we are interested in both positive and negative feedback on the course.
We recommend starting a fresh doc at the beginning of your course and naming it ‘Course Eval.’ Make notes throughout the course in the doc whenever you encounter certain elements of the course that you like or elements within the course that didn’t necessarily resonate. Pay attention to whether you feel the learning objectives were met, whether your instructor was fair and responsive, and take note of areas for improvement. What aspects of the course and/or instruction helped you learn? What aspects might be changed to help future students learn more effectively?
Being mindful and making notes about your learning experiences throughout the course helps you give more meaningful responses in the evaluation.
Good feedback vs. less valuable feedback
General comments such as “I liked this course. The instructor was great!” Are a delight to read, but are not very helpful. Try to use the word ‘because.’ As in “I liked this course because it showed me I really needed me to work on group communication.”
Adding reasoning and detail makes for far more actionable feedback.
Your efforts result in positive change
Student perspectives provide valuable insight – and course evaluations are a way to communicate with your program about your experiences in your classes.
Your instructor and program staff reads each evaluation and takes them seriously. And that’s why if you really loved something or even if you really disliked something, please tell us. We need information in order to act on it, so we can do more of what you liked and less of what you don’t. We want to know it all…the good, the bad – and the ugly!