McMaster University’s course evaluation process has undergone some recent changes. In the spring term of 2020, the principal question of the course evaluation questionnaire was changed. You, as students, are no longer asked to rate the effectiveness of your instructor. Students are now asked to rate and provide feedback on their learning experience in the course.
As you fill out course evaluations, be mindful of how you reflect on the semester and your learning experiences. Students’ reflections on their learning experiences are a valuable resource for improving teaching and learning practices, as they can help educators and administrators incorporate student feedback into course design. The purpose of this guide is twofold—use this as a reference if you find yourself needing guidance on:
This resource will describe 5 key content areas that you can reflect on when providing feedback on your learning experience. These content areas address learning in a holistic way—we want you as students to think about and provide feedback on multiple considerations of learning, not just on your instructor’s performance.
Providing written feedback that is constructive and respectful makes it more likely for your comments to be considered! Being able to provide constructive feedback is a critical skill in all areas, not just in course evaluations, so take the time to review the provided examples and guidelines.
REFLECTING ON LEARNING EXPERIENCE
When providing ratings and written input on your learning experiences, you can reflect on these areas:
- Engagement with course content
- Use of learning resources
- Facilitation of learning by instructors
- Course organization and structure
- Assessment and feedback practices
The following segments will go through each of these key content areas in more detail. When completing your course evaluations at the end of the semester, please feel free to reference this document to help guide your reflections.
When you reflect on your engagement with course-related content, you can think of the following considerations, if applicable:
- How is the content of this course relevant to your academic or career goals?
- Are there real-world applications of content you have learned?
- Can you apply newly learned course content to other contexts or courses?
- Did course content build on previous learning, or support your development of new skills and competencies?
- Were you motivated to engage with content during course activities (E.g., lectures, readings, tutorials)?
Learning resources can include modules, textbooks, lectures, external resources shared by the instructor, practice resources, etc. When you think back on these resources, please consider:
- What learning resources were you given access to and were they sufficient in supporting your learning and facilitating your understanding?
- Were these resources clear and accessible?
- Did the information provided in these resources (as a whole) cover the knowledge required to engage in class activities and assessments?
- Did resources correspond to one another? Were there discrepancies?
- Did you need to access additional learning resources on your own?
- Were you given the tools to find these resources?
Keep in mind that learning is an active process. That is, learning results from students’ active involvement in learning-focused tasks, and is not simply a passive result of what is presented by instructors. Rather, consider how your instructor(s) facilitated your ability to: meet course expectations, engage meaningfully with content, participate actively, and seek help when you need it. Within this context, it might be helpful to consider:
|Your Engagement with Learning||Instructor’s Facilitation of Learning|
|Engagement||You may reflect on your efforts to meet the intended learning outcomes of the course. For example, reading the syllabus, using learning resources, completing coursework, etc.||You may consider methods of instruction. For example, the clarity and pacing of information presented, interactivity with students, supplemental resources provided, etc.|
|Communication||You may reflect on efforts to reach out to instructors or teaching assistants to clarify your understanding, including attending office hours, asking questions, and following up after lectures.||Consider the level of their availability and responsiveness to students during and outside of class. This may include answering questions, providing office hours, and responding positively.|
|Participation||Consider your level of active participation in class discussions or activities (if applicable). Reflect on the nature of the classroom environment and how you and/or other students contributed to this.||Consider opportunities provided for student participation or discussion in class and course activities. Reflect on how they manage the classroom environment and respond to discussions.|
|Expectations and Preparation||Consider your preparation for class activities. For example, finishing readings and assignments on time, attending lectures, and editing your work.||Consider whether expectations for course activities and assignments were expressed clearly and in advance.|
As a student, you should be able to easily recognize and understand the sequence of progression through the course, and how course materials and topics are arranged. It may be helpful to look back at the course syllabus and compare initial outlines to your experiences in the course. Try to consider:
- The pacing of course content and workload
- Did you have enough time to complete assignments or study for assessments?
- Was the amount of information taught to students feasible to study within the timeline of the course? Were you provided with any resources to assist with this?
- The variety and interactivity of learning activities
- For example, consider opportunities provided for discussion, group work, etc.
- Consistency regarding the course outline
- Did the order of topics and course activities align with the course syllabus?
- Were you made aware of any changes to the course syllabus?
- Did the topics covered logically flow throughout the course?
When reflecting on your experiences with assessments, please consider objective characteristics such as:
- The types of assessments and whether they were conducive to the information you learned
- Whether there was clarity regarding assessment expectations
- Whether you were provided feedback on your work by instructors or teaching assistants
- Consider the difference between individual feedback provided to students and general feedback provided to the class based on trends in student performance on assessments
- If feedback was given on any assessments, consider the quality of the feedback provided
- Did the feedback facilitate your understanding of the content being assessed?
- Were you able to incorporate this feedback into future work or assignments?
PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK
Constructive feedback from students is an incredibly valuable resource for improving teaching and learning practices. For instructors and administrators to take feedback seriously and incorporate suggestions into curriculum design, feedback should be constructive and informative. Good feedback should:
- Remember that comments should remain appropriate (do not say anything you would not say to your instructor directly)
- Comments or criticisms based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities are not appropriate
- Do not comment on superficial traits (for example, appearance or accents)
- Remember that instructors are people too, and consider the impact that comments like this may have on them
- Not being respectful makes it less likely that your comments will be considered seriously by the instructor
- Provide examples, speak based on your own experiences and from your own perspective—not on behalf of other students
- Describe actual incidents, avoid personal comments or comments unrelated to learning experience
|Instead of…||This is more helpful…|
|“The instructor is a sarcastic loudmouth.”||“The professor is sarcastic at times during lectures, which makes learning difficult and confusing.”|
|“The exam was unfair.”||“I found the questions on the final exam fair, but I found the length of the exam unfair. I knew all the material, but really struggled to finish the exam in time.
I felt very stressed by the time pressure and may not have performed my best.”
|“The feedback was useless.”||“The feedback was vague and didn’t help me understand what I did wrong. This meant I wasn’t able to correct it for the next assignment, leading me to continue to make errors.”|
- While comments regarding what needs to change may come more readily, it is just as helpful to remind the instructor about what went well to ensure they continue best practices in future courses
- Include positive elements (appreciation) and suggestions for improvement
- Offer suggestions or alternative solutions based on your critiques
- Goal directed feedback should be tied to specific, measurable learning goals, expectations, or objectives
- Focus on observable or changeable characteristics related to the course and describe the impact on your learning
- Comments should offer specific reasons for judgment that are relevant to learning experience
|Instead of…||This is more helpful…|
|“We were really able to listen in class.”
This leaves the reader wondering what occurred within the classroom to allow this.
|“It was great that the PowerPoint presentations were put online, that way you can follow in class and without having to worry about frantically taking down notes and not getting everything.”|
|“The professor was often sarcastic.”
This does not describe what the impact of this was.
|“The professor was often sarcastic, which made me not want to ask questions or participate in discussions.”|
|“The assignments were really hard.”
This does not specify what the student struggled with or how this impacted the student’s learning.
|“I felt that the expectations for the first assignment were not clear, and I struggled to incorporate content from the first unit into my final submission.”|
|“The class discussions were fun.”
This does not describe the events or explain their overall role in the student’s learning experience.
|“Our class discussions throughout the course allowed me to apply course concepts to real-world situations. I found that this made me more engaged with the lectures and helped my understanding of the content.”|
- While the instructor clearly has influence and control over many of the factors that influence the quality of a course and the teaching, that influence is often shared with the students and/or the administrators.
- Think about who is able to change problem areas—or maintain successful practices—to help frame your comments usefully
- When reflecting on learning experiences facilitated by teaching assistants, consider the scope of their responsibilities within the course
- When possible, make suggestions from the student perspective regarding actions that the instructor or administrators could take to help improve the situation
- Consider the role you play in the learning experience.
- For example, if you experienced a lack of clarity in class, did you use available resources to supplement your understanding? Did you ask questions or reach out to the instructor or teaching assistants if this option was available to you?