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Student Evaluation of Teaching

The literature on student evaluations of teaching is extensive, covering over 80 years and encompassing over 2000 published papers. Although there are some ambiguous and/or contradictory studies, the research suggests that well-designed and tested evaluation forms are both reliable and valid. And, importantly, student ratings can support instructional improvement efforts, particularly when combined with other means of assessment.

Regardless of whether you are interested in mid-semester feedback or end-of-course evaluation data, following these six basic steps will help you collect the most meaningful data, analyze it, and implement classroom changes.

Develop an assessment plan for your course
An assessment plan is an essential component of good course design. It helps ensure that assessment of student learning is frequent, varied, and, most importantly, aligned with course goals. It also help you, the instructor, learn more about your own teaching as well as the learning environment you’ve created. For this second purpose, a number of different options exist, each of which generate slightly different information.

   • Mid-semester feedback & end-of-course evaluation data (click here to learn more)

   • Teaching Analysis Poll (TAP) (click here to learn more)

   • Consultant observation of teaching (click here to learn more)

   • Peer observation of teaching (click here to learn more)

Prepare to collect student evaluation data
Spending a little time up front thinking about the questions you’re interested in learning more about and working with your students to help them better understand the importance of contributing their constructive feedback will help you make best use of the student evaluation data.

   • Authoring your own evaluation questions

   • Preparing/encouraging students to provide feedback

Collect student feedback
These days, collecting mid-term feedback and end-of-course evaluation data is relatively straightforward. The task is made particularly easy when using one of UVa’s technology-based solutions.

   • Collecting mid-term feedback at UVa

   • Collecting end-of-course evaluation data at UVa

Prepare to read the feedback
Sifting through the noise inherent in student perception data is not always easy, especially since we’re somewhat hardwired to focus (and dwell) on negative comments and lower-than-expected numbers. Developing a strategy to overcome your initial reaction to your student evaluation data will help you uncover the trends which point to meaningful course improvements.

Instructor Perspective: “How I Read My Student Evaluations” by Cedar Reiner

Analyze the data
While student perception data can be meaningful and ultimately useful in improving your instruction and future iterations of the course, care must be taken to determine the significance and validity of the data. Here are some general principles and guidelines to help you get the most out of the numerical data and written comments reported on evaluations.

   • The numbers

   • The written comments

Instructor Perspective: “Taking Stock: Evaluations from Students” by Robert F. Bruner

Instructor Perspective: “The “Course Evaluation Follow-up” Form” by Cheryl Krueger

Respond to student feedback
Unlike end-of-course evaluations, which are collected after the course is over, there is opportunity to respond to student feedback with all mid-term feedback techniques. As soon as possible, ideally the next class session following the close of the evaluation period, respond in-person to the students. Thank them for their candid feedback, let them know the 2-3 things you’re willing to change to improve the learning environment—as well as those things which might have surfaced from student feedback but are already pedagogically sound—and then follow through.

Instructor Perspective: “Using Mid-Semester Evaluations to Encourage Active Learning” by Carey Sargent


Aleamoni, L.M. “Student Rating Myths versus Research Facts from 1924-1998. “ Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education 13 (1999): 153-156.

Arreola, R. A. Developing a Comprehensive Evaluation System.  Bolton, MA: Anker, 2000.

Cashin, W. E. “Student Ratings of Teaching: The Research Revisited.” IDEA Paper 32 (1995).

Cohen, P. A. Effectiveness of student-rating feedback for improving college instruction: A meta-analysis of findings. Research in Higher Education, 13 (1980): 321–341.

Theall M. and Jennifer Franklin. “Using Student Ratings for Teaching Improvement.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 48 (1991): 83-96.

Theall, M., P. A. Abrami, and L. Mets, eds. “The Student Ratings Debate. Are they Valid? How Can We Best Use Them?” New Directions for Institutional Research 109 (2001).