Beyond student course evaluations: Strategies for leveraging formative and summative feedback in the interest of better learning

iStock_000004877849MediumDo the words “student course evaluations” make you flinch? As Mary Clementrecently suggested, the time to consider feedback from your students is before the end of the semester. To make your evaluations an opportunity as opposed to a threat, here are a few things to consider:

1.     Read your past evaluations.
Your student course evaluations can provide useful data, and they do not serve you well if you do not read them closely. If you are nervous about taking a good, hard look, seek out a trusted colleague with whom you can compare notes. You will be surprised how much differently an objective set of eyes can interpret what students had to say about your course.
2.     Don’t wait to gather input from your students about their learning. 
NOW is the time to conduct a mid-semester feedback with your students (Learn more about this invaluable tool here). Here are three mid-semester feedback questions that you can ask your students NOW:
  • What in the class so far has helped your learning the most?
  • What in the class so far has hindered your learning?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve the course or address concerns you might have?
3.    Quick! Share your response! Close the loop!
Demonstrate that you are open to feedback by talking about some of the ways that you have responded to feedback in the past. This small step may help students feel comfortable enough to share other feedback (both positive and negative) earlier in the semester…when you have time to respond. Sharing your response with students can also include them in the process of evaluating whether your response was a workable solution.
4.    Start small.
Don’t try to change everything all at once. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible. Secondly, if you change everything, you won’t really know what it was that made the difference.  After you’ve selected one or two items that might be worth adjusting or addressing, outline how you might incorporate that change. You might even consider making an appointment with a staff member at the Delphi Center to think through incorporating the small change. Appointments are confidential and you guide the focus of the conversation. Learn more here.
Learn more about student evaluations and some common formative feedback tools by checking out the resources below. 

(Suggestions compiled from:,,

What are some of the ways you collect feedback throughout the semester about your students’ learning?  What changes have you made in response to your students’ feedback?

Making Sense of Student Evaluation Feedback
This useful site offers tips for interpreting student evaluations.  It also provides summaries of research on student evaluations.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
CATs are formative evaluation methods that serve two purposes: they can help you to assess the degree to which your students understand the course content and they can provide you with information about the effectiveness of your teaching methods.
Most are designed to be quick and easy to use and each CAT provides different kinds of information.  Learn more here:
Critical Incident Questionnaires (CIQs)
Dr. Stephen Brookfield’s CIQ is a useful tool for gathering information about how students are experiencing their learning and your teaching.  This site provides detailed information about the CIQ: what it is, advantages of using it, and instructions about how to administer, analyze, and respond to the data you obtain from it:

5 thoughts on “Beyond student course evaluations: Strategies for leveraging formative and summative feedback in the interest of better learning

  1. I did this recently in my online course and received some very useful suggestions. I created a survey in Blackboard and posed the three questions above. I found the “suggestions for change” the most beneficial. I had received arbitrary comments the last few years in my online courses about having assignments due on Sunday night rather than Friday mornings. My classes are almost exclusively non-traditionals so many have work and family commitments and some are even overseas in different countries. My thought was to have the assignments due on Friday so that they could have weekend time with their families or for other activities. The formal feedback I received, however, matched the anecdotal evidence I had been receiving for several semesters — many of these students do their classwork on weekends because that’s the only time they can really commit to the readings and other assignments. SO, listening to their reasoning and closing the loop, I made the remaining assignments due on Sunday night at 11:00 p.m. Some might argue that I shouldn’t have “given in” to the students’ requests, but it really wasn’t “giving in” — it was a confirmation of what I had informally heard and now had the formal data to back up. My goal isn’t to have my students adhere to a schedule for the schedule’s sake but rather to find the most effective way for them to get the most out of this online course. For future courses, I will make my due dates all on Sunday nights at 11:00. Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for sharing your great experience in responding to students’ feedback about the weekly deadline for assignments in your online class. I too have sought feedback and responded on this particular issue. I’ve tried out every night of the week – for my weekly class start and assignment due time in my online classes – on every night of the week except Saturday! I received the same feedback as you did about Friday night deadlines, and I actually also received the same feedback as your rationale about the Sunday night deadlines (i.e. that it was hard on their work life balance, especially because I require team projects so the team members often had to meet virtually on the weekend before the deadline). The feedback I’ve received, and what seems to work best for most of my students, is a Tuesday night (midnight est) deadline for assignments and for the weekly start to a new class. Since I teach 3-4 different online classes each semester, I have made the weekly start time/ assignment deadline time on Tues, Wed, Thurs at midnight for each of the different classes (when I teach four different classes, I’ll add a Monday night to the list). Students respond well to this schedule because they can choose to use their weekends for classwork if they wish, but the deadline is not right on a weekend night. One advantage of online courses (that are set up with asynchronous assignments) is that students can always post early if they wish, so those who want to get their assignments posted before or during the weekend can always do so. I agree with you that the exact scheduled deadline is only important insofar as it is helpful to the students, especially those taking online courses because they need the asynchrynous format to juggle their multiple role responsibilities.

  3. In my experience instructors genuinely interested in student learning and improving their instruction use formative evaluations on a regular basis. Summative evaluations are used by administrators who are more interested in numbers than in whether students are learning anything. Much research is available that indicates that the quicker we can get feedback to students the more likely it is to have an effect, just as the quicker an instructor can get feedback from the students about how class is going the quicker improvements can be made. In my online instruction I have always had Sunday night as the deadline because, as Steve points out, it is a good time for students. However, the key might be how fast do we respond to these Sunday night assignments. If we wait until the next weekend we might be waiting too long. Before I had to start using Blackboard, I used to make assignments due on Friday, then I would grade them on Saturday and tell students they could rewrite them and turn them in by Sunday night. That way I kept the Sunday night deadline but was able to provide feedback at least once so they could improve the assignment. However, with the Friday night maintenance period that is not a reliable way to do things. Of course, I could have them turn in the assignments on Thursday night and provide feedback on Friday, but unlike Ann, my experience with having weekday due dates has never been very successful. I am sticking with Sunday nights.

    • Hi Al, that is a really wonderful practice to allow your students to turn in an assignment on Friday and provide one-day turnaround feedback so they could then turn the assignment in for a grade by Sunday. I’m guessing your students really appreciated this feedback process? Besides helping them put more thought into their assignments, it showed you cared a lot about their success. I’m wondering whether you had any work life balance on your weekends when you did this process! :) Ann

  4. I agree somewhat with Steve and Ann on due dates. I have online and face-to-face assignments due throughout the week and leave weekends for learners to work on upcoming assignments. They know what those assignments are going to be because they are listed in the master schedule, at the beginning of the class, and in Blackboard, that I open weekly, the upcoming assignments, on Thursday evening for the upcoming week. I also tell them in the syllabus that my assignment due dates are probably different from what they have experienced in other classes. So, it is important for them to consistently review when things are due.

    I encourage learners, mine are non-traditional too, at the beginning of the class to work ahead for when the inevitable “life” occurs. Most seem to like staggered due dates but I do hear sometimes that; “every other teacher I have had has work due on Sunday night. How come you make us turn work in during the week?” I have thought about changing this and have come to the conclusion that if just about everyone has work due on Sunday, I feel like I am in a way simulating for them how things operate in the work world. I tell them to think about projects at work. Are they always due on the same day of the week? Probably not and this is a way for them to practice or develop time-management. They are usually pretty good time managers with the myriad of things they need to juggle being adult learners and this is another area for managing. After an adjustment period, things smooth out but I have had the occasional learner complain during the entire class. I feel my approach is different and allows for development of some areas that may need development. I am staying with my plan too, thanks.

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