A Fun (and Somewhat Sneaky) Way to Get Real Feedback on Your Class

Sure, we all have formal Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs), but how many students think deeply about what they score and what they write? In a recent article by the American Association of University Professors, they cite numerous problems with SETs such as:

  • Low response rates
  • Small class sizes outweighed by outliers, luck, and error
  • Impossible to compare without knowing the distribution of scores
  • Strong influence by instructor’s gender, age, race, and physical attractiveness
  • Students tending to rate lenient professors more favorably
  • Evaluations are given before the class is complete

To add to the complexity, in 2007, psychologists Robert Youmans and Benjamin Jee found that giving students chocolate before they completed teaching evaluations improved SET scores. One of the study’s results even showed the weather could have an effect on SET scores!

I am assuming that if you are reading this, you are an instructor that actually cares about improving your courses and getting real, honest, and helpful feedback from your students. One semester several years ago led me this fun and yes, somewhat sneaky, way to get unbiased, thoughtful, and enjoyable feedback on my class.

The assignment: The Course Survival Guide.

On the last day of class, I announce one last bonus point assignment. I tell the students that they have one week to submit a one-page poster-style survival guide for future students in the course. I ask the students what they wish they had known then what they know now and what do you think future students will need to know to be successful in my class. Not just the class in general, but my class specifically.

The timing of this assignment is the key to getting honest and constructive feedback. I’ve found that students at all performance levels are motivated to turn this bonus point assignment in. Your best-performing students that are just at that A- level, will turn one in to get that bump in a grade to an A. Your lower-performing students will also be motivated to turn it in, either to just pass the class or bump their grade up. I usually assign 15 bonus points out of a class of about 300 points, which allows for a small, yet possible bump up in a grade (B- to B, etc.). Also, because it is a bonus point assignment, you can see the differences in perspective from those students that worked hard all semester, to those that either did not work that hard or waited until the end of the semester to try and catch up. The results are fascinating.

For those of you that have read my previous post, How to Get Your Students to Read Your Syllabus, you may already be familiar with the online tool, Piktochart that I use to create a supplemental syllabus students actually read. I recommend students use the same tool to create their survival guides.

I’ve created a Dropbox folder with some examples from my students that I encourage you to check out. I also have these in a folder on Blackboard and share them with my students early on in their semester. The students find them quite helpful too!

If you do decide to incorporate this, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly via email: colleen@colleenrobb.com.


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