Student reviews of teaching for reappointment, tenure, promotion, and other kinds of faculty reviews should provide two kinds of information: (1) information related to the Faculty Manual criteria for contributions to student learning and development in the Standards for Faculty Evaluations (Section 4.VI.B.1), and (2) information about aspects of the faculty member’s teaching that are distinctive to his or her field, specific teaching responsibilities, methods of instruction, or other areas that may not be fully addressed in the standardized questions. The Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness can provide additional advice at any point in the process of preparing questions.
- Ask about things students can reasonably be expected to remember, describe, and/or evaluate. Some aspects of faculty performance are outside the range of students’ direct experience or knowledge. For example, students can’t judge how much interaction a faculty member has had with other students. Nor do they have the knowledge base needed to evaluate the faculty member’s level of expertise in a given area. They can provide information on how effectively the faculty member promotes student understanding of, or interest in, that area.
- Focus each question on a single topic or issue. Folding two or more questions into one will compromise the accuracy of the responses. Asking “Was the faculty member’s feedback on student work timely and helpful?” will pose problems if the students felt the feedback was timely but not particularly helpful, or helpful but not sufficiently timely. If a student writes “no,” the reviewers won’t know if the problem was lack of timeliness, lack of helpfulness, or both.
- Keep questions simple and direct. Long questions, or questions that include negatives, are more subject to misinterpretation by the respondents.
- Avoid questions that are likely to evoke simple “yes” or “no” answers. Instead of asking “Did the faculty member encourage the expression of different points of view?” phrase the question to elicit more judgment and/or description: “To what extent did the faculty member encourage…” or “How effectively did the faculty member encourage…” Adding “Please elaborate” or “In what ways?” at the end of the question is another way to elicit more information.
- Avoid leading questions. For example, asking “In what ways does the faculty member promote active learning?” presumes that the faculty member promotes active learning. Rewording the question more neutrally will elicit more valid responses: “To what extent does the faculty member promote active learning? Please elaborate.”
- Avoid words or phrases that might mean different things to different respondents. For example, asking “To what extent did the faculty member evaluate student work fairly?” is problematic because different students might assign different meanings to “fairly.” Some may interpret the question to mean, “Did the faculty member spell out the criteria for evaluation in advance and adhere to them in assigning grades?” Others may interpret the question to mean, “Did the faculty member show favoritism in assigning grades?” (Notice that this latter interpretation also falls prey to the problem described in #2 above. Students can only evaluate favoritism if they know what grades other students received and why.)
- Keep question phrasing consistent throughout the questionnaire. If you are preparing questions to supplement a standard form, phrase the supplementary questions so the wording is consistent with the wording of the standard questions. For example, use “the faculty member” instead of “the instructor” or “Professor Jones.”
- Avoid replicating questions. This is particularly important in preparing questions to be added to a standard form. The purpose of the supplementary questions is to elicit information that probably would not be elicited by the questions that precede them.