Making Course Evaluations More Useful

At one of the universities where I teach, instructors can add twelve questions to our end-of-semester course evaluations. This lets us ask course- and field-specific questions, making the (notoriously flawed) student evaluation system at least potentially a bit more useful.

I gladly make use of this option, as you can see in the image below. All of our customized questions must be answerable on the same one-to-five numeric scale, although we get to label the scale ourselves. (For consistency's sake, I use the same labels the university uses in other sections of the form, from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree.") These prompts are for my world history survey.

In addition to asking students how they perceive their own success in various specific content areas, I also include a prompt I borrowed from a different university's evaluation form: "Hard work was necessary to get a good grade in this course." I've also added two original prompts to show how my students perceive the course's role in their overall education: "Taking the course changed my mind about something, and/or challenged me to defend ideas I already had," and "The course helped me understand topics or ideas I have studied in other courses." This semester is the first time I'm using the latter prompt.

If colleges are going to rely on student evaluations for any purpose, they should provide options like this to make them more useful. And when instructors have options like this, we should think carefully about how to make the most of the opportunity.