Using Course Evaluations to Improve Instruction

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Continuous course improvement is an essential process as we strive to provide outstanding instruction. The practice of continuous improvement originated in business and industry, and is being applied in higher education with increasing frequency. A key element of continuous improvement is the effective use of data to make informed changes likely to impact student success. One source of data, and the focus of this article, is course evaluations. 

Course evaluations have received mixed reviews in higher education research as sources of actionable data. They should not be used as the sole source of information, as they do not paint a complete picture of teaching and learning in a particular course, program, or department. Nonetheless, course evaluations can be used, along with other data, as part of the continuous course improvement process. 

The steps and questions listed below may help guide your reflection on course evaluation data:

Step 1

Review the data (quantitative ratings and qualitative feedback) for each evaluation you received, to include the response rate.

  • What are your first impressions?
  • What stands out?

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Step 2

Compare the current data to evaluations from previous semesters.

  • What themes are evident? Be sure to include strengths and possible areas for improvement. 
  • What differences are noticeable between the semesters? Are the differences significant? What instructional changes did you make between semesters?

Compare Data

Step 3

Compare the course evaluation data with other data. This will allow you to discover where and how your instruction could potentially be modified:

  • Course completion. What percentage of students successfully completed the course? 
    • Of those who did not successfully complete the course, at what point in the course did they start to show signs of difficulty? This decline might be seen in the quality of their work (grades) and/or in attendance. 
      • What patterns do you see? Which units, modules, lessons, or assessments were associated with these signs of struggling? It’s also a good idea to look at these signs among students who passed the course. Do grades or attendance reflect trouble in the same point(s) of the course?

Course Evaluation

Step 4

Talk to colleagues who teach similar courses.

  • If you use college-wide assessments, compare results.  
    • Which parts of the assessment result in consistently high scores?
    • Which parts of the assessment result in consistently low scores? 
      • How can instruction be modified to improve student performance? 
        • What additional materials could be added? 
        • Are you using a variety of instructional materials (text, multimedia, visual, auditory, simulation, application, supported practice). Contact your campus local CCIT for assistance with adding these types of materials if you have never built them before.
      • Should the assessment be modified?
      • Are you leveraging the LMS to its greatest capacity?
      • Are you encouraging students to use resources such as tutoring on campus and online (Smart Thinking)?
    • If students with other instructors are not struggling with certain concepts or assessments, what are the other instructors doing differently? Try something new in your course that other faculty have found to be successful.

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Using the course evaluation to help to further analyze student performance and to foster discussion amongst colleagues about varying instructional strategies being used is an effective way to participate in continuous improvement. If you want further assistance in improving your course or analyzing your data, please contact CCIT.