Using student evaluations – in a good way…

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

End-of-the-course student evaluations can provide us with formative feedback and helpful suggestions regarding many aspects of our teaching. But some law teachers are reluctant to use student evaluation comments for teaching development purposes because they lack of confidence in the value of student evaluations and the pain that comes from reviewing negative comments.

The following ideas may help maximize the usefulness of student evaluations and minimize the discomfort from negative comments.

» Read quickly though the comments to get an overall sense of the students’ reaction to the course. The first time though the evaluations, many teachers focus on the negative comments.

» Review the comments a second time to identify themes. Articulate in writing several categories of positive comments. Identify in writing one or two areas in which the students made negative comments or suggested improvement. Compare the positive and negative themes to comments in previous student evaluations.

» Choose an area or two to address the next time you teach the course. Make incremental, not wholesale, changes.

» Try to ignore isolated mean comments, such as “I leaned nothing in this course” or “Professor X should be fired.” These types of comments are a reflection on the commentator’s problems, not our teaching.

» Have a colleague or consultant review your student evaluations. Another set of eyes can help us see the positive aspects of the evaluations and can assist us in identifying trends, themes, and appropriate adjustments to make in the future.

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