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 instructors through the OCQ Portal.

The questions on the OCQ include 11 campus-wide questions, and may include school- or department-specific required questions, as well as items selected by individual instructor.

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, especially if you have made changes in that course based on prior student feedback.
  • Let students know what kinds of comments are most helpful to you—typically specific ones that can be acted upon.
  • Build a culture of feedback in the course, both through you providing constructive feedback on their assignments and you asking for (and acting upon) feedback throughout the semester. If you ask for feedback at midterm and overtly take some actions as a result of that feedback, they are more likely to keep providing it at OCQ time.
  • Remind students that responses to some of the questions go into the Student Dashboard, a tool that lets students get previews of courses and instructors. That information is only useful if plenty of students respond to the OCQ. (FYI, your  results for these "student access questions" are not publicly available for the first two semesters you teach at IUB.)
  • Set aside a few minutes of class time near the end of the semester for students to complete the OCQ.
  • Consider providing an incentive for students to respond; for example, you might give the class an extra credit assignment if a certain percent of the class responds, or release a study guide a bit earlier when you reach 85% completion. We recommend incentives never be direct (e.g., extra credit points), but indirect through opportunities (study guides, etc.).

Consider these and other tips for increasing your OCQ response rate. More information about the OCQ (including instructions for adding your own items) can be found on the OCQ frequently-asked-questions page.

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:

  1. Read all the responses to get a sense of the range of answers.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Determine a general trend for each category you’ve identified. What do the majority of comments say? Are they mostly positive or mostly negative?
  5. 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. Remember that OCQ data shouldn't stand alone as a measure of your teaching effectiveness, but using it as a baseline for working to improve your teaching—especially if you can show improvements in data from subsequent semesters—can help you tell a valuable story in your dossier.

For More Help or Information

For more information about the OCQ, see the OCQ website, which provides additional resources, including related campus policies.

Contact the CITL for advice about interpreting student evaluations and using this information to improve instruction.