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Using course evaluations

Subject evaluations: practical information

Course evaluations within the UG are carried out at almost all faculties with the software package 'Blue'. Within each faculty, a designated person is responsible for the organization of the evaluations. 

Typically, each faculty uses its own set of questions. The content of those questions has a fair amount of overlap, by the way, but BLUE supports the possibility that in addition to a set of standard questions, some subject- or teacher-specific questions can be asked. This is a good idea for teachers seeking specific areas for evaluation/feedback. 

Subject evaluations: quality assurance

Subject evaluations are generally used to improve the quality of education. The idea is that aspects that are viewed less positively by students lead to adjustment of those parts of the course. Subject evaluations in the form of a questionnaire are a frequently used instrument; it is cheap, easy to use and if the questions remain the same, it is easy to make comparisons over years. It is important to note, however, that evaluations should not be used for comparisons between teachers (especially those of varying experience levels!) but rather growth over time for a specific teacher or course content. 

Subject evaluations: How do we arrive at good evaluation questions?

 It may be relatively easy to come up with a set of questions, however exact questions can gain value if the evaluation goals and underlying educational concepts are clear. Above all, the results must be "actionable"; they must provide entry points for change.

 From goals to underlying concepts and precise question formulation    

From an educational point of view, there is a case for using educational evaluations primarily to improve the quality of education. Everyone benefits: students achieve better results and do so more quickly, teachers get formative feedback on their teaching, and they have to review fewer retakes each year because teaching becomes more effective.

A condition for this view is that it must be possible to link the results of group-level evaluations to other key figures in education: pass rates, whether the subject is a stumbling block, how many chances students need, the study load of the subject, etc. Integral analysis of that kind of data can provide clear indications that restructuring of the course: nature, content, frequency of testing, place in the program, scope, connection with previous courses and/or role of the instructor etc. may be desirable. 

Top five: indications of educational innovation

Before creating questions on the evaluation of teaching, it may be helpful to know what good practices for learning are. These top five of a total of over 250 most influential variables on student learning gains could be useful (Hattie, 2018):

1. Collective teacher 'efficacy'

This means that the team of teachers share the belief that they can have an impact on student learning outcomes and therefore on the outcomes of the school as a whole.

2. Students set goals and evaluate them

This means that teachers ask their student to set personal goals in terms of results/grades and give them strategies for achieving them. Students take the tests and compare the results with the self-formulated goals.

3. 'Know' your student

Teachers who build positive relationships with their (group of) students are much more likely to have those students perform at a higher level; students are likely to try harder, persist longer, take risks, and try again after failure.

4. Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA)

CTA is designed to discover and represent what people know and what their thinking steps are. This reveals current cognitive skills and uncovers thinking strategies that students need.

5. Response to Intervention

This is nothing more than the use of regular (formative) progress testing. This provides the opportunity for early substantive interventions by instructors and guidance from student advisors. 

The most important ingredient in these top five seems to be feedback. Both students and instructors need to know where they stand. Teachers to understand what effect their teaching had on students' mastery of the subject. This teaches teachers how to tailor the next step to the student's current understanding. Students in turn need to know where they stand on the path between current knowledge and the course learning objectives. A course should be structured so that the instructor provides very regular (every week) feedback on progress in an atmosphere that challenges students to keep performing.  

Conclusion for teaching evaluations.

When formulating questions for course evaluations, it is valuable to connect to concepts from "Constructive alignment" and Hattie's (2015) list of key aspects in teaching that make students learn most effectively. It is those variables that really matter in education.

Whom to contact?

Contact EDU Support or your faculty's Embedded Expert from ESI for tailored didactic advice in using these suggestions in your teaching. For technical assistance please contact Nestorsupport.


Benton, S. L., & Cashin, W. E. (2010). Student Ratings of Teaching: A Summary of Research and Literature. IDEA publication.

 Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

 Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. A synthesis of over, 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Taylor & Francis Ltd.

 Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79–91.

 Hattie, J. (28-03-2018). Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Visible Learning.

 Marsh, H.W. (2007). Students’ Evaluations of University Teaching: Dimensionality, Reliability, Validity, Potential Biases and Usefulness. In R.P. Perry and J.C. Smart (Eds.), The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: An Evidence-Based Perspective (pp 319 - 383). Springer.

 Spencer, P. A. & Flyr, M. L. (1992) The formal evaluation as an impetus to classroom change: Myth or reality? ERIC Institution of Education Sciences.

 Wachtel, H. K. (1998). Student evaluation of college teaching effectiveness: A brief review. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 23(2), 191-212.


Last modified: 15 November 11:56 PM
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