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Include Course Evaluation Questions that Elicit Specific Feedback

The pandemic-imposed shift to remote teaching in higher education has inspired many instructors to implement teaching strategies, including feedback and assessment strategies, that they hadn’t previously used. This, therefore, seems like an ideal time to do some data collection to find out from students how these strategies were received. You might use the data to inform future offerings of your course.

One way to collect the data is through end-of-semester course evaluations. At McGill University, every academic unit has a course evaluation questionnaire. In addition, instructors may customize that unit questionnaire by adding up to three questions to the questionnaire of each course they teach. If you’re thinking of adding questions, first check your unit’s current questionnaire to be sure your questions don’t overlap with any already on the questionnaire. Writing course evaluation questions can be tricky, though. Can you figure out why the following questionnaire prompts are potentially problematic? (Suggestions appear at the end of this post.)

  1. The activities in class and the video assignment helped me learn.  
  1. The activities in class (e.g., think-pair-share, one minute papers) helped me learn. 
  1. I attended class on a regular basis. 
  1. The instructor has up-to-date knowledge of the subject matter.  

Check TLS’ Creating Meaningful Course Evaluation Questionnaires resource document—available in English and French on this page—to see better phrasings of these prompts. Guidelines for writing prompts, along with example prompts, start on p. 9 (English version).

If you’re short of inspiration for creating your own questions, TLS’ bank of recommended questions (starting on p. 3 of the resource document) offers over 100 questions you can choose from. 

McGill instructors who would like feedback on their questions are welcome to schedule a consultation with Teaching and Learning Services

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Why the questionnaire prompts are potentially problematic: 

  1. If you ask for feedback on more than one aspect of your course or teaching per question, it will be difficult for students to respond if only one of the options has helped them learn. In turn, you won’t know from the responses which of the options helped students learn. 
  1. Students may not understand teaching jargon, such as think-pair-share and one minute papers. 
  1. “Regular” is a relative term. You and your students may have different perceptions of what “regular” is.  
  1. Students are not necessarily well-placed to assess instructors’ knowledge of subject matter. 

Image credit: QA by Sergey Novosyolov, RU in the Thin Set 107 Collection
https://thenounproject.com/term/questions-and-answers/92068/ 

Senior Academic Associate at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services.; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning; will work for chocolate (Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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