Resources‎ > ‎

Improving Student Evaluations


(from a 2004 workshop; note references to the old SUMMA forms rather than the more recent BLUE survey forms)

  •  There was a consensus among part-timers attending the workshop that, at the beginning of the semester, you need to sell students on the importance of the subject matter of the class you’re teaching, especially if it’s not popular (math, writing, public speaking, etc.).  If you can immediately inject humor into your interaction with students, it can set the tone for the semester.  Also, it’s important to remind them periodically how much they’re learning and how valuable these skills will be to them in the future.  In other words, frame whatever you’re doing in a positive light. 
  • If you are teaching in a program where texts and assignments are shaped by a committee, then it’s important to let students know this fact and to remind them of it throughout the semester.  It takes some of the pressure off of you if students don’t like the books or assignments.  You can throw up your hands and say, “I know it’s difficult (or whatever the complaint may be), but I’m not responsible for these choices.” 
  • Similarly, when it comes to grades, it’s important to clearly articulate your criteria; it’s important for students to know what you expect from them.  Also, point out that you’re under pressure not to inflate grades and stress that a “B” is a very good grade.  Some teachers get into a discussion with students about the problems high school teachers create when they give out inflated grades.  Also, some instructors tell the students that they are under considerable pressure from the Deans not to inflate grades.  It’s also an opportunity to have a philosophical discussion about grades and how unfair it is to distort them.     
  • Always explain your rationale for doing certain things.  For example, if you use Canvas in your classes, go over why you use it and what it adds to the course.   
  • Mid-term conferences/student evaluations were also recommended as a way to let students know you care about them and their progress.  This mid-term feedback can also help you to discover if you need to adjust your teaching in certain areas. 
  • Everyone agreed that’s important to have as much personal contact as possible with individual students (this could also include emails).  If class size is too large to get to know each student personally, then you should have them do small group work, allowing you to meet and interact with each group.  Of course, meetings during office hours also make students feel you are interested in their progress.   The more rapport you can develop with students, the better your evaluations will be. 
  • Having students do self-evaluations of graded work can help you to establish some common ground re grades.  You also can pass out former students’ responses to similar assignments and have the class come up with criteria and evaluate this work. 
  • Some instructors submit evaluations to students on a day when they’ve planned a fun lesson.  Others choose a day when the student who will give them their worst evaluation is not in class.  And someone else said, “Don’t ever pass out evaluations on a Monday.”  Also, don’t give them out on a day when you’re returning a graded assignment. 
  • Before you pass out the SUMMA forms, spend time reminding students of how you have covered the learning outcomes for the class and stress how much the students have learned. 
  • When passing out the SUMMA form, it’s important to ask students to take these evaluations seriously.  Tell them USF values their opinions and that they’re evaluating you, the instructor, and not the class.  You also need to explain the evaluation process to them:  tell them that if the numbers are low, it’s brought to the Deans and Department Chairs’ attention.  If you have too many low evaluations, you may not be rehired.  So students need to read the questions carefully and respond equally thoughtfully.  Also, be sure to identify questions they should not answer if they don’t apply to the class you’re teaching. 
  • If you consistently have one (or more!) number on the SUMMA form that comes up low, discuss it with your students early in the semester and ask for their help in improving in that area. 
  • If you have a room that’s too large for your class, it helps if to rearrange the chairs/tables and create a seminar effect, making parts of the room off limits. 

Steven Zetlan was not able to attend the workshop, but he sent the following suggestions for us to share with all of you:

I can't attend, but I have had experience with a wonderful end of semester evaluation that I would like to share, as well as a mid-term eval that I did this semester.

San Francisco State University has a special computer lab that it calls the Collaboratory.  In the Collaboratory there is a screen at the front of the room, and a horseshoe of computers, open end facing the screen.

I was attending a class in a master's program, and at the end of the semester the instructor took us to the collaboratory.  Each student sat at a computer, and the instructor provided several screens on a program (the name of which I don't remember).  Each screen was labeled differently, and was like a chat room.  For example:  "Assignments"  "Assessments" "Textbook" "Classroom Management" etc., etc.

There were specific questions for us to answer on each "page," and we could write our answers, or any comments, or we could discuss our feelings with other students. Everything was done anonymously, and even the students did not know who was typing what.    The teacher was in the room, so she could facilitate, but I don't imagine that the teacher need be present.

The teacher (or any participant, I suppose) can get a transcript of the whole session.

I see many benefits to this type of evaluation.  For example, students will tend to spend more time giving feedback.  They give each other ideas, and may be likely to provide useful examples.  It is more interactive that most other evaluations.

Another idea:

This is a very communicative form of evaluation.

This semester I had the students do a midterm evaluation. I provided them with questions to think about on the day before the evaluation.  On the day of the evaluation I put the students into groups, and asked each group to pick one speaker, one writer and one coordinator.  During the class the group discussed their answers, opinions and ideas in response to my written questions.  The speaker was assigned to summarize the groups opinions on each question, and come to me after class to present the results.

I like this format because the students get to talk about their ideas, feelings, etc., and like the collaboratory, the information is presented anonymously.  I know who is in the group, but I don't know who said what.  This semester I discovered that the book was too easy, that I could provide more feedback on grammar, and that they don't like doing evaluations!

I feel that mid-semester evaluations are probably more important than end-of-semester evaluations, because a mid-semester eval. serves the students you are currently teaching, as well as the students to come.

Credit for both these activities goes to Prof. Gail Weinstein, SF State.

ARTS & SCIENCES ASSOCIATE DEAN"S RESPONSES TO OUR QUESTIONS (He reminded us he can’t speak for all the Schools and his responses don’t necessarily represent all of Arts & Sciences): 

Q:  Are part-timers' evaluations lower than full -timers?

A:  Often part-timers have the highest and the lowest evaluation.

Q:  Is there a difference in evaluations between classes that are larger versus classes that are smaller?

A: Not much.

Q: What happens if an instructor’s evaluations get worse one semester? 

A: The dean looks at all the variables that could have lead to lower evaluations, such as classroom aesthetics (physical environment) and other factors.

Q:  Do part-timers and full-timers use the same SUMMA evaluations?

A: Yes.

Q:  How do the SUMMA evaluations impact PHP and non-PHP faculty?

A:  They can determine whether we’re reappointed.

Q: What numbers on the SUMMA form do they look at most closely?

A:  Numbers 18 and 22.


Q:  What numbers send up red flags?

A:  2-3 range.

Q:  What happens to the evaluations after they’ve been processed?

A:  The Deans’ assistants go through and pull the ones that have unusually high and low numbers. 


Q:  Who sees the evaluations?

A:  Only the Deans and Department Chairs.


Fellow adjunct John Higgins submitted the following instruments that he uses in his classes at the end of the semester, the Course Feedback form and Reflexivity Response sheet. He says they provide a wealth of information about student learning, as well as student reactions to course content and processes:

Description: usf_logo-2_black

University of San Francisco

Department of Media Studies

Final Course Feedback


                                    PLEASE -- DO NOT SIGN YOUR NAME


Instructor:   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx           Course Name & Number:   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Term: :   xxxxxx_   Year:    20xx                             Your Class Rank  (circle one):     Sr     Jr     Sph     Fr    


Your anticipated grade for this course: __________

1.  Overall, I rate this course:







below average


above average


     (use the back of this page if you need additional room)

2.  What leads me to evaluate the course this way:

3.  Things that have helped me / worked well for me in this course:

4.  Things that have hindered me / not worked well for me in this course:

5.  Things I would change about this course:

6.  When I first started in this class, I expected:

7.  One or more things I learned / take away from this class:

8.  Other thoughts/ ideas/ comments I have about this course or instructor:

 Developed by John W. Higgins, U of San Francisco Department of Media Studies

USF      Class               Semester  Year                                                (Your name goes at the end)


The questions below are based on Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology.1  They are a way of implementing Roland Barthes’ notion of self-reflexivity: “Reflexivity doesn’t mean simply to `reflect on’ (which usually comes either later or too late) but is an immediate critical consciousness of what one is doing, thinking or writing.”2

The key to answering these questions is to think, then thoroughly explain (or “probe”) your responses in the second part of each question (“b”).  Keep asking yourself “what leads me to the response I gave?” and then write down that response too.


1a.  The best of what I have achieved in this course (what I am most proud of) is:

1b.  What leads me to this response is   [Explain in detail]:

2a.  One idea or concept or experience in this course that I found invigorating / stimulating / exciting / useful is:

2b.  What about this concept or idea led me to find it invigorating / stimulating / exciting / useful is  [Explain in detail]:

3a.  One idea or concept or experience in this course that I have struggled with is:

3b.  How I resolved this struggle / am resolving this struggle is   [Explain in detail]:

4a.  Something I experienced or learned during this course that I would consider a “lesson for life” is:

4b.  How I arrived at this conclusion was     [Explain in detail]:

5.  Additional thoughts I have about the course or processes in the course:


Name [Please Print]:  ____________________________


Signature:  ____________________________



  Developed by John W. Higgins, U of San Francisco Department of Media Studies