Using Feedback From Student Surveys

Since grad school, I’ve been using the same set of student survey questions to assess my teaching. The questions are linked here, though I have since moved them into a Google Form.

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These questions are drawn from the Measures of Effective Teaching project, funded by the Gates Foundation. They write in their preliminary report about the design of the student survey:

The goal is not to conduct a popularity contest for teachers. Rather, students are asked to give feedback on
specific aspects of a teacher’s practice, so that teachers can improve their use of class time, the quality of the
comments they give on homework, their pedagogical practices, or their relationships with their students.

I think this is a great premise. If I ask students whether they liked my class or how good my teaching is, their answers are likely to be heavily influenced by whether or not they like me and how they are feeling that day. If I ask more specific questions about my instruction, I’m more likely to get useful and objective information about my teaching.

The survey above selects a subset of questions from the original study and were adjusted to use Likert scales. I’ve stuck with them because they are the questions I used first and I’ve found it helpful to gather comparative data over time.

It’s often a bit of a blow to my ego to hear what students have to say. At the same time, comparing different groups of students has led to valuable insights. For instance, at my current school, I initially did poorly on the question, “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.” I got a 3 from my first cohort, which is an average of “Sometimes”. I then bumped up to a 3.4, then a 3.7, then a 3.9, which is nearly an average of “Usually”. This slow but measurable improvement in one aspect of my classroom management has been gratifying. This is not to say that one survey questions should define my teaching. There’s no reason I should expect a perfect score on that question, and I could do well and still not do much to support student learning. But I haven’t changed the fundamentals of my pedagogy in that time, and my students’ perception is that I have used their time more purposefully. For another perspective on the relationship between using student time effectively and classroom management, check out Matt Vaudrey’s thoughts here.

A frustration from the survey has been the question, “How clearly does this teacher explain things?” I have barely been able to budge this one, and after my improvements on two classroom management questions it has hovered at the bottom for my last two cohorts, somewhere just below “Usually”. Not that this is a terrible result, or that explaining things clearly is the only thing that matters in my teaching, but I think it does matter, and I would love to find ways to practice that skill and improve students’ perception that I explain things clearly.

I think that this survey is useful, but it also has limitations. I think it could be complemented effectively by some open-response questions that ask students to talk about one area I’m doing particularly poorly in, and to solicit broader feedback than is possible using Likert scales. A survey is just one way of assessing my strengths and areas for improvement. But it only takes a few minutes to have students fill out a Google Form, and I’m most happy that I’ve stuck with the same questions over time so that I can compare cohorts and try to measure my own improvement.

Final tip for anyone who wants to use this: the below formula might be useful to anyone converting Likert scale ratings into numbers to more easily average and find trends. You can just drop this into a new tab, name your tab with the raw information “Data” and drag to convert every rating to a number.
=IF(OR(Data!B2 = “Much better”,Data!B2 = “Much harder”,Data!B2 = “Much more”,Data!B2 = “Always”,Data!B2 = “Extremely well respected”,Data!B2 = “Strongly agree”,Data!B2 = “Extremely clearly”),5,IF(OR(Data!B2 = “Somewhat better”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat harder”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat more”,Data!B2 = “Usually”,Data!B2 = “Very well respected”,Data!B2 = “Agree”,Data!B2 = “Very clearly”),4,IF(OR(Data!B2 = “Similar”,Data!B2 = “Similar”,Data!B2 = “Similar”,Data!B2 = “Sometimes”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat well respected”,Data!B2 = “Neutral”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat clearly”),3,IF(OR(Data!B2 = “Somewhat worse”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat easier”,Data!B2 = “Somewhat less”,Data!B2 = “Rarely”,Data!B2 = “Slightly well respected”,Data!B2 = “Disagree”,Data!B2 = “Slightly clearly”),2,IF(OR(Data!B2 = “Much worse”,Data!B2 = “Much easier”,Data!B2 = “Much less”,Data!B2 = “Never”,Data!B2 = “Not at all well respected”,Data!B2 = “Strongly disagree”,Data!B2 = “Not at all clearly”),1)))))

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