Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Teaching Tip: Other Kinds of Evaluations

Many are the ways to gather student feedback about a course and about our work as teachers. We do not need to rely on standardized feedback alone. One blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education offers a tip for generating discursive evaluations we think very much worth your time: have your students write a letter to future students in the class.

The distinction between “summative” and “formative” appraisals really matters when thinking about and planning evaluations. Summative appraisals only evaluate performances. Formative appraisals aim to help improve future performances. It is the difference between simply assigning a letter grade to student writing and providing comments intended to help the student do better later on. Summative appraisals might generate more anxiety than anything else. Emphasizing formative evaluations will be better for our psyches and for the quality of future courses.

Students receive little practice in providing either formative or summative course evaluations, generally doing so only once for each class, with months passing between opportunities. No wonder if their feedback can seem thin or not very helpful! If we wish to improve the quality of the feedback, asking for periodic appraisals of specific aspects of the course might help. Students who believe their feedback matters are more likely to give it the care we hope for. Asking for feedback regularly—and using that feedback to improve the class—will teach students that end-of-term feedback matters, too. We discussed mid-semester feedback in a previous tip. Brown University’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning has a one-page pdf of advice for Making Sense of Student Evaluation Feedback, which we heartily recommend.

Send us your tips and your requests—as well as your feedback about this tip and the quick hit series in general. We really value your responses!

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