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Effective teaching is one of the areas taken into consideration for decisions regarding reappointment at the BFE. Student ratings (often referred to as “course evaluations”) provide important and unique information about student perceptions, and are frequently used as an indicator of teaching effectiveness. However, they should form only one part of a comprehensive system of instructor evaluation as they represent student reports concerning a particular course at a specific point in time, and cannot alone document the full range of teaching responsibilities and accomplishments of an instructor.

The challenge, as with all data, is to interpret student ratings in ways that are meaningful and justifiable so that instructors, directors, and program administrators can be assured that the decisions drawn from them are appropriate. The following suggestions are drawn from what is now a large body of research literature, representing over thirty years of investigation into the value and effective use of student course ratings.

A. Implementation

  • Ensure that the purpose of the evaluation is made clear to respondents. Specify how the results will be used and by whom. Encourage students to complete the evaluations and emphasize that their input will have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning.
  • Time of distribution: the BFE ratings procedure allows students to complete the forms at their convenience during an established time period.

B. Interpretation

  • Ratings of global items, (e.g., “Overall the professor is a good teacher”; “I learned a great deal in this course”) are most useful in providing general impressions of overall instructional effectiveness, e.g., exceptional, effective, adequate, unacceptable. Responses to these questions are found to correlate most consistently with measures of actual student achievement. However, given the complexity and variety of variables which may influence course ratings, such as:
    • Class size (smaller classes tend to receive higher ratings, especially those having fewer than 15 students, followed by classes of 15 to 35, and over 100. Classes containing between 35 and 100 students appear to be rated least favorably.),
    • Course level (higher level courses may obtain higher ratings than introductory level courses),
      and the wide range of variables influencing student achievement (such as student ability, personal goals, study habits and individual interests) it is important to consider the entire pattern of ratings results from a number of different courses and classes of students over a period of time to form a more comprehensive and meaningful understanding of an individual’s teaching.
  • Written comments should not be used for personnel decisions, although they can provide extremely useful insights to instructors for formative purposes.
  • In the Teaching Portfolio, consider how instructors have made use of and responded to the student ratings. Look for evidence of thoughtful reflection, and efforts made to improve, develop and enhance teaching in response to feedback provided by students.

    Student ratings of courses and teaching can be used for a number of purposes. Response patterns can help instructors identify areas of their courses and teaching they may want to focus on for development. They also provide instructors with information about their teaching effectiveness which can enable them to document the full range of their teaching responsibilities and accomplishments. When student ratings are used to inform others, they need to be interpreted in a meaningful context so as to avoid misunderstanding or inappropriate speculation by readers or reviewers.

Interpretation for improvement and development:

  • Written comments: These are useful for teaching improvement since they often represent a full range of opinions (usually the most positive and most negative) and may provide insight into why some students had difficulty learning. Written comments often help clarify and illuminate some of the observed tabular response patterns.
  • Ratings and consultation: Research shows that course ratings are most useful in improving teaching effectiveness when coupled with appropriate consultation.