Using SGID: A Way to Achieve More Effective Course Evaluations


The Law Teacher, Volume 6, number 1 (Fall 1998), p. 4.

About the Author

Greg Munro teaches at Montana University School of Law, Missoula, MT 59812; (406) 243-6745; fax (406) 243-2576; munro [at]

Faculty members often commiserate over the problems inherently posed by student evaluations of instructors and courses. When used as tools for assessment of teaching, individual anonymous student evaluations often lack reliability, validity, and fairness. The small group instructional diagnosis (SGID) system developed for undergraduate schools at the University of Washington effectively addresses these problems and is readily adaptable to the law school classroom.

In the SGID process, students, at the instruction of a trained facilitator, collaborate in small groups to assess the instructor and course. With the help of the facilitator, students then reach a class consensus on strengths and weaknesses, which is later reported to the instructor by the facilitator. The beauty of SGID is that, used properly, it can provide a more fair, reliable, and valid assessment of your teaching and course while maintaining student anonymity in the process.

How it works:

A facilitator (probably a faculty member from another department on your campus) meets with the class for up to 40 minutes. The facilitator begins by explaining the process to the students and assuring them that the process is anonymous, confidential, and voluntary. It is used to help the instructor improve the class and not to help the administration evaluate the instructor. The class breaks into small groups of four or six students, each of which selects a reporter. The facilitator writes on the board and asks the groups to answer two questions:

  1. What helps you learn in this course?
  2. What improvements would you recommend, and how would you suggest they be made?

The students in each group take 10 minutes to discuss and write answers to the questions. The facilitator elicits from each group's reporter two or three responses for each question, carefully writing the essence of each response on the board to make sure it captures the students' intent. The facilitator questions the class, clarifies, and assists in discussion to reach a consensus and summarize the class responses. A student records the resulting summary from the board.

(Note: During this whole-class discussion, it is important for the facilitator to focus on the answers made by the reporters and not to take additional answers from individuals, since such answers have not been peer-reviewed in the small groups.)

After the class, the facilitator meets privately with the instructor and presents the results. The facilitator discusses each of the points with the instructor and answers questions in an attempt to be as accurate as possible in transmitting the students' responses. The facilitator may help the instructor decide improvements that can be readily made so that those changes can be announced in the next class. This reassures students of the responsiveness and effectiveness of the process.

Importance of peer review

A most important feature of this process is that the comments are peer-reviewed and the result of consensus, which avoids the frustration an instructor feels when a single student makes a stinging criticism that tempts the instructor to change even though no other student may share the opinion. The peer review aspect screens out aberrant personal opinions or remarks that lack foundation, or may be mean-spirited, sexist, or otherwise unprofessional.

A faculty member receiving comments from a class through the SGID process may have much greater confidence in the validity and reliability of the student evaluations. Be prepared, however, because valid and fair student observations merit response in the form of change or explanation to the class if change can't be made for some reason. Using the process formatively at mid-term, and then responding, allows the students to see the benefit of their professional evaluation.

Conclusion: Greater participation, satisfaction

The process and resulting changes result in greater student ownership and responsibility for the class as well as greater participation and satisfaction. For more material on the SGID process and additional references, see Ken White's short paper, Mid-Course Adjustments: Using Small Group Instructional Diagnosis to Improve Teaching and Learning published by the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education at the University of Washington.

For a broader treatment of such "classroom research," see Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, CLASSROOM ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES (2d ed. 1993).