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Interpret Feedback

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Interpreting your reports

As you read through your reports, bear in mind that Stanford’s student course feedback forms are designed to direct students’ attention towards their own learning. The responses should reflect how much and how well students learned in your course. The teaching feedback form, however, directs attention to individual section instructors.

You are shown response distributions because they give a better overall picture than mean scores. For example, it is more meaningful to take a distribution range as showing the “% excellent or good.”

Look for patterns: are the distributions consistent and in the ranges you expect? Are there unusual clusters, such as a “spike,” or a very high and very low grouping?

A single mean score can be a few decimal points higher or lower simply due to the random sample of students in a particular course from term to term. An increase or decrease of a few decimal points should not necessarily be interpreted as a significant change. For more information, read our discussion paper on the reliability of evaluation statistics (PDF).

Finally, it is common to concentrate on outliers or unique responses, but it is more useful to look for patterns and trends than speculate about an isolated score.

Begin with general questions:

  • What’s working well?
  • What categories might I devote more attention to?
    • In those categories, what two or three specific adjustments might I consider?
  • Are there substantial issues I’d like to tackle in my course design and teaching methods?

Can the written comments help make sense of the results? Review the comments for themes or particular areas of concern or approval.

Interpreting statistical measures

These resources can help you understand and identify appropriate summary statistics and the reliability of statistical measures:

Interpreting category results

The course report is divided into categories to help you reflect on the results and, where indicated, adjust your teaching strategy or course design.

Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning is addressed in the “Learning Goals” and “Student Learning” sections of the course report.

Learning Goals

Are students more likely to report achieving some learning goals than others? Are the goals well-articulated?

Student Learning

  • Does my own assessment of my teaching match that of my students’? If not, why not?
  • Can I apply the principles of student learning to the learning outcomes?
  • Are there issues to address in the course design or teaching methods?
  •  Is my course attracting the students I expected, with appropriate interests and prior knowledge? If not, what adjustments in course description, learning goals, and materials might I consider?

Attendance and Engagement

Are students attending the course regularly? Are students spending a reasonable amount of time on the course outside of class?

Instruction and Organization

Is the course structure clear to students? Could it be revised?

Course Elements

The section on course elements allows you to assess the relative usefulness to students of different course elements. Are some elements more effective than others?

Making sense of qualitative feedback

Qualitative feedback from student comments can be a valuable source of insight into the results.

Compare comments

You can view anonymous individual student responses, as well as comments only, by selecting Response Report from the list of available reports.

Compare the comments of students who gave the course a very positive response with the comments of students who gave the course a less positive response. This may help you identify the most important issues to address, and can also help you make sense of contradictory comments.

Look for themes

Note any criticism that appears more than once, even if the majority of comments are at odds with the criticism. There may be a significant sub-group of students who could benefit from course modifications or alternative approaches.

Maintain Your Perspective

Try to maintain your perspective when reading negative comments. Under the protection of anonymity, students may write negative comments that you find difficult to read. These comments may be motivated by pressures and concerns unrelated to your course.

If you receive a number of negative comments among your evaluations, you may want to discuss them with a trusted colleague or a CTL consultant. Talking with someone can help you keep perspective and restore your teaching confidence, while helping you explore ways to address any possible problems in future courses.

Questions or concerns?

The course evaluations include a question, “What would you like to say about this course to a student who is considering taking it in the future?”, that enables students to share their experiences with other students. Students are instructed to abide by the Stanford Terms of Use for Sites and the Fundamental Standard when they answer this question, and the majority of students respond constructively. Generally, to maintain the overall integrity and anonymity of the survey, student responses are neither altered nor deleted. If you have a question about a student response, please contact course-evaluations@stanford.edu.

Red and white roses creating a block S on the Stanford Oval.

Key dates for end-term feedback

Check the dates for end-term feedback for the academic year.

Students sitting in a lecture.

Frequently asked questions

Get answers to some common questions.