My Student Course Evaluations

Do students have a right to know the results of student course evaluation surveys? I think they do, and we should give them as much information as possible. Making student course evaluation data publicly available is controversial, for reasons ranging from misleading student feedback, to privacy laws (pertaining HR records), to reducing academic rigor, and the consumerization of higher education. The article, “Students Push for More Access to Course-Evaluation Data,” (CHE, 30 April 2014, subscription required), presents the issue from students’ perspective, while faculty’s perspective is represented in comments posted in response to the article.

Fundamentally, transparency in student course evaluation data has the major potential benefit of pushing faculty to improve their teaching. Lean Teaching documents dozens of common teaching errors, many of which go uncorrected for decades. The need for improvement could not be clearer. My sense is that much of the push-back from faculty is because they they know they make lots of teaching errors, but do not know how to correct them – and which is why they should adopt the Lean Teaching pedagogy.

In addition, teaching is often valued less than research in faculty performance evaluations by peers and administrators. A faculty member’s name in a given field of study is made by research, not by teaching. So, making course evaluations public is seen by faculty as creating many more problems than it eliminates.

I have always taken student feedback seriously and I know it has helped me improve my teaching. Student feedback is an integral part of Lean teaching because it supports the two principles of Lean management: “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.” If a teacher is serious about improving their teaching, then transparency will surely help. It will not be problem-free, but I am certain that problems can be corrected to help assure better outcomes for both student and teacher.

I have no problem making my student course evaluation data publicly available. My long-term (approximately 10 year) average teaching evaluation scores for all courses taught are (1-5 scale):

  • Overall quality of course are 4.43 (standard deviation of 0.56)
  • Overall quality of instruction are 4.57 (standard deviation of 0.43)

Below are the results of student evaluations for the courses I taught in the two most recent semesters, Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 (1-5 scale):

tm362

The data for TM362 represents two different courses due to a recent change in our undergraduate program. The new course (right side) seems to be off to a good start, though I plan to make many changes, based on student feedback and my own ideas for improvement, to make it even better.

tm572

This is a signature graduate course of mine on Lean leadership, with no parallel in any other university. Student evaluation scores have been consistently as shown for nearly 12 years, despite the course being significantly different now than when it was first taught.

tm590

This is another signature graduate course of mine, again with no parallel in any other university. Students learn how to do formal failure analysis of management decisions using the A4 failure analysis method I created. The perfect score on the right is the first time that has ever happened to me. It is an anomaly. The left-hand image is a better representation of course ratings.

tm594

The graduate Research Methods course is a challenging one to teach because it combines two distinctly different audiences (Construction Management and Technology Management students), neither of whom think this required course should be in their degree programs. We are in the process of eliminating this course as a required course (for the Technology Management MS) on the basis that master’s degrees with practical orientations do not require a research methods course according to NEASC accreditation standards.

As the above images show, the score for courses is always lower than the score for instructor. I attribute this to the variation in students’ level of interest in the subject matter, while at the same time recognizing that I do good work given that limitation. Overall, the Lean Teaching pedagogy has helped consistently deliver top 10 percent course and instructor ratings over more than 15 years of teaching. The thousands of large and small improvements that I have made to my courses over time, both during and between semester, yields consistently favorable course evaluations and student learning outcomes.

I believe that my approach to teaching process improvement yields a 10 to 25 percent or more increase in average scores, and results in greater consistency within a course and across all courses taught. My scores are pretty good, but the challenge is to continuously improve. I believe that average scores of 4.7 to 4.8 are consistently achievable for all courses that a professor teaches (assuming they teach only courses that are closely aligned with their knowledge areas).

In summary, I hope that seeing my student course evaluation scores inspire you to adopt the Lean Teaching pedagogy. Once again, I refer you to Lean Teaching for complete details. You can download it for free if you are a member of Amazon Prime. As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions.

3 thoughts on “My Student Course Evaluations

  1. Mickey

    I always appreciate the data and wisdom in which you share with us. It is so important to see that our “feedback” is actually making a difference. So often we sit in classes and wonder how it is possible that one can be teaching for as long as they have with the terrible habits which they perfected over the years. It may be possible that so many professors get lost in the defensiveness of these evaluations and do not make changes because of pride.

    It honestly does NOT surprise me that you received such high scores in the Spring semester when you are always focused on improvement. Students in our department know that you always have your ear open to us and you are willing to make changes to not only to your teaching practices but also to the course itself.

    Thanks for listening.

    Reply
  2. Courtney

    I think it’s great that you share the results of the course evaluations. I’m not surprised by the results of the surveys at all. You are a great professor with a unique teaching style.

    I am however surprised at the planned removal of the Research Methods course from the curriculum. I thought that was one of the top courses in the program. While it is a lot of work, I felt that in a manner different from the other courses, it forced students to take what we have learned and apply it to something that interests us. It was a great foundation for the capstone project.

    While you provided data of students in the program trending toward the comprehensive exam, having a Capstone project or Thesis provides graduates with a tangible representation of their application of what they’ve learned throughout the course. I found it rather fulfilling to have that final product, which wouldn’t have been remotely possible without the preparation of the Research Methods course.

    My thoughts.

    Keep up the great work. Continuous Improvement. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Bob Emiliani Post author

      Thank you for the feedback.

      The Research Methods course will likely move from the core to an elective (pending approval in the fall by the Graduate Curriculum and the Graduate Studies committee). So the course will still be available for those students who wish to do a capstone project or M.S. thesis in their plan of study and who want a more fulfilling educational experience.

      Reply

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