Student evaluation of teaching

As a teacher, I highly value the feedback I get from students. It helps me to evaluate my teaching and learn what students like and dislike. In the last years, I explored and iterated upon a method to enable the student evaluation of teaching.

Course evaluation

Our program, Creative Media & Game Technologies, teaches new courses each quarter. A period is typically ten weeks long. Those courses get evaluated in the last week before the course ends and typically ask students about their experience of the course. How well were they prepared, and how would they grade the course? They also have the option to answer some open questions to leave their remarks.

As a teacher, I always found the “open question” remarks the most valuable. They are interesting to read and give a good insight into the student experience. The most helpful comments are from highly critical students who also think along and come up with suggestions for improvement.

One evaluation per period seemed to me like a missed opportunity. I wanted to evaluate more often to make quicker iterations, even during a course, next to the default course evaluation. To prevent evaluation fatigue, I kept the evaluations plain and straightforward.

Student evaluation of teaching lab classes (version 1)

Since open questions gave me the most valuable input, I started with three questions. I took inspiration from the Retrospective method used in Eduscrum.

  • What went well?
  • What could be improved?
  • What must be improved?

At the end of each class, I handed out some post-its and asked them to answer these questions. The questions were summarized by using a simple emoji and the terms: Good, Improve, and Annoying.

Students could paste their post-its with their remarks under those three “categories.” I didn’t explicitly ask students to evaluate my teaching. The goal was to assess the whole class experience.

Post-it's showing emoijs with the terms Good, Improve and Annoying.
Good :-), Improve :-|, Annoying :-(
Results of the student evaluation.
Student evaluation of teaching – Good category

The categories help to set priorities. At first, I hesitated to include the “Good” category because I was mainly interested in what didn’t work. However, the “Good” category helped me become aware of what works and what students actually appreciate.

After class, I would group the post-its with similar feedback with the affinity map method.

Student evaluation of teaching lectures (during the pandemic).

During the pandemic, we had to switch to online lectures. Which, in general, meant that I was doing my class in front of a screen without no way to check how the students received the information. Of course, I built in interaction moments with polls and audio chat, but it was mainly one-way communication.

I found it important to give students a way to leave their feedback on a lecture and evaluate my teaching. With the help of their feedback, I was also better able to iterate and adapt my lessons to a new way of teaching.

First student evaluation of teaching slide with 3 questions.
Student evaluation of teaching presentation slide (1st version) (redacted link to an online form).

Through the slide above, I asked them to evaluate my teaching. I shared the link in the online chat environment. In the form, they could answer the three open questions shown above.

About 40% of the students used the form and left their feedback.


Students gave valuable feedback to improve teaching. However, some things are challenging to improve directly in the course. Other things might be out of my direct control.

Students also have different opinions. Some like the lecture pacing, while others mention that the pacing could be better. I wanted to share these insights with students and elaborate on my choices. An essential part of teaching is setting the right expectations. Doing a retrospective gave me the ability to make students part of course development and clarify the choices I’ve made.

For each lecture, I do a quick recapture of the previous class. After that, I would show a slide with (a summary) of the student’s feedback. During this retrospective, I take a short moment to talk about the input.

Slide with feedback text I received from my students. Organised in three categories.
Retrospective Slide, shown at the start of the following lecture

Students valued the retrospective (which came back several times in the following “what did you like?” evaluation). And it helps to elaborate on choices like lecture pacing and length.

Student evaluation of teaching lab classes (version 2)

The questions “What could be better?” and “What was annoying to you?” determine the feedback’s priority. The feedback that students mark as highly annoying has a higher priority. After several evaluations, I figured I could remove the “annoying” question. Removing this question makes the evaluation faster and simpler for the students and me.

  • Most students weren’t filling in the annoying question at all.
  • Different students have different priorities. So what one student would put under “better” would be “annoying” for the other students.
  • The priority between “better” and “annoying” gave a bit more information, but I couldn’t act differently on this. In reality, I valued “better” responses as much as “annoying.”
  • Simpler is better. Why cause more cognitive strain if it’s not needed?
  • I found the annoying question and emoji to be too negative.

I eliminated the “annoying” question and changed the “subtitle” of the “What could be better?” question to “Ideas for improvement.” This invites students to not only mention what could be better but also come up with ideas to improve it.

This change to two categories also made the retrospective more straightforward.

Updated student evaluation of teaching slide with only 2 questions.
Updated slide for the evaluation of teaching

For practical reasons, I still teach lectures online. The practical classes are at our location again. I decided to keep the class evaluation digital and not move back to post-its.

  • Everyone is now used to scanning a QR Code with their smartphone.
  • Using a digital form for evaluation makes I can use the results in the retrospective slides easier.
  • Archiving the feedback is more manageable (no need to take photos and digitalize them myself).

Tops & Tips

The current evaluation method is similar to another feedback method called “Tops & Tips.”

  • Tops are the points that you did well.
  • Tips are the recommendations for where you can improve.

While I don’t get insecure by straightly negative feedback, this is not the case for everyone. I am very critical (a remark I heard from students and colleagues), and sometimes I forget to mention the good things. This evaluation and feedback methodology nudges you to say positive things too.

I like this focus on positive feedback because it allows you to double down on the things that are going fine instead of solely focusing on things that need improvement.

Next step

Everyone who has to teach, lecture, or present can benefit from this evaluation methodology. That’s why I’m creating a simple tool to speed up the evaluation and feedback process.

Please subscribe to my newsletter if you are interested in this journey. I only send out a newsletter when I have some serious updates.

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