It’s that time of year that we love to hate. When the pomp and circumstance of commencement is finally over, we’ve submitted our final grades, and reveled once again in a job well done, we get an email that our eSETs are ready for viewing. If you’re like me, your immediate response is, “here it comes…” followed by the fleeting thought that “surely they’ll have glowing things to say about me and my course.”

Imposter syndrome is REAL and we’ve all experienced it. If you haven’t then you probably have some room for genuine self-reflection. In either case, however, the question always arises, “What do I do with negative student evaluations?”

In Hodges and Stanton’s article (2007), “Translating Comments on Student Evaluations into the Language of Learning,” they acknowledge that often times, student comments reflect the student’s perception of how interested we were in them personally. If we read deeper, however, comments may also reveal struggles faced by many novice learners. The authors encourage faculty to “use these insights as part of a scholarly approach to teaching, making meaningful adjustments to future classes and informing curricular choices in productive ways.”

Perhaps you have received comments like these:

  1. “There was too much reading.” Students may not understand that the process of learning is difficult. Talk with them about how we ourselves struggle with challenging content and difficult texts, and that the experts also take a long time to work through problems.
  2. “Problems on the exam were nothing like those in class/problem sets.” As irritating as this comment is for instructors of quantitative content, it may be a good indication that students simply have not mastered “cognitively active” study strategies that I discussed in this post back in April. If this is a comment you consistently receive, teaching effective, active study strategies would be time well spent.
  3. “The grading was unfair.” For developing writers, for example, who believe that an argumentative paper is merely an opportunity to present the facts or report information, we must move them to an understanding that knowledge is contextual and evidence-based. Teaching students the difference between “revision” and “editing” is an excellent first step in helping them understand this difference. During my peer review exercises, I encourage students to comment on whether the writer provided  a convincing argument based on the evidence, rather than word-smithing their paper.
  4. “I didn’t come to college to teach myself.” Oh, the woes of active learning or hybrid learning. Many students are uncomfortable when we aren’t doing all the talking. This issue may be that students are dualistic thinkers; students believe that their job is simply to listen and repeat the views of the authority figure. It may be a wise use of time to explain the structure of your class and how actively learning and self-exploration helps them to understand the questions before we provide them with the answers.

In Edmonson’s book, “Why Read?” (2004), he encourages faculty to ask students how they have been changed by the encounter (of our class) rather than by our performance as an instructor. Add a question to your eSETS to this effect. When reading student comments, Weimer (May 18, 2018) reminds us to:

  1. Step back
  2. Read objectively
  3. Devise a game plan for improvement if improvement is warranted
  4. Talk to a colleague or talk to students
  5. Realize that you’re not alone!
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