Administering and Interpreting Course Evaluations
Administering and Interpreting Course Evaluations
When student give feedback a course, they provide an important and useful source of information for the instructor to improve their teaching. One way to gather feedback from students is through end-of-semester evaluations. At IU Bloomington, most courses are evaluated using the Online Course Questionnaire (OCQ), which is an online system administered by Bloomington Evaluation Services and Testing (BEST). All students receive an email at the end of the semester, inviting them to complete the OCQ for each course they are enrolled in. After the semester is over and grades have been posted, results are made available to faculty through the OCQ Portal.
The questions on the OCQ include 11 campus-wide questions (which can be found here), and may include school- or department-specific required questions, or items selected by individual faculty.
It is important that a majority of students in your class complete the OCQ, to ensure that you have obtained a representative sample of student feedback. To make sure you have a good response rate:
- Make an announcement in class when the OCQ is available for students, and encourage them to complete it.
- Tell your students how important the OCQ is for your teaching. You might describe how OCQ results have influenced your teaching in the past. Or you might provide an incentive for students to respond; for example, you might give the class extra credit points if a certain percent of the class responds.
- Consider setting aside a few minutes of class time near the end of the semester for students to complete the OCQ.
Other tips for increasing your OCQ response rate can be found here. More information about the OCQ (including instructions for adding your own items) can be found in the Knowledge Base.
Interpreting the Results
Interpreting student ratings of instruction can be challenging, but the guidelines below will help you extract useful information from your report.
As you interpret the numerical results, consider the following:
- Make sure a sufficient number of students have evaluated your course.The absolute number of students and the proportion responding are both important. If your course has fewer than 10 students, the ratings should be treated with caution. Similarly, if fewer than two-thirds of the students in your class provide ratings, the results may not accurately reflect the views of the entire class.
- Compare your score to the average score for each item.The OCQ report assigns a number to each response category (4 to the most positive response, 1 to the most negative), and calculates an average or mean score for each campus-wide item. It also provides average responses for the department and institution, for comparison purposes.
- Consider the absolute number of responses in each category in addition to the average scores. Particularly if your course is small, a few students’ negative responses can affect the average scores substantially.
- Don’t over-interpret the data.In general, if your average score for a particular item is within one standard deviation above or below the average score for your department or the institution, your score is solidly average. Due to measurement error, item averages that differ by a few tenths of a point may not be significantly different.
To interpret the responses to the open-ended questions, follow these steps:
- Read all the responses to get a sense of the range of answers.
- Discard the comments that are useless for your teaching: those that address irrelevant or personal matters, those that offer nothing specific that you can act on, etc.
- Sort the remaining responses into categories based on content. For example, you might identify a number of response talking about the pace of the course, another group focusing on the organization, yet another on the exams, and so on. On a hard copy of your OCQ report, you can highlight all the comments in a category with a certain highlighter color; this will give you a way to visually gauge the number of comments in each category.
- Determine a general trend for each category you’ve identified. What do the majority of comments say? Are they mostly positive or mostly negative?
- Look for consistencies (or inconsistencies) between the comments and the numerical results. Based on this analysis, choose a few issues to address when you teach the course next, or in your teaching in general. Make an action plan for these issues.
Finally, save the results of your course evaluations to include in dossiers for tenure or promotion, and so that you can refer to them next time you teach the course.
For more information on interpreting and responding to student evaluations, refer to Using Course Evaluations and Factors Affecting Evaluations in our Teaching Handbook.
For More Help or Information
Contact us for advice about interpreting student evaluations and improving instruction.