Using Student Feedback

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Researchers into student surveys of teaching have come to widely varied conclusions about the validity of the surveys, the insights they provide, and the biases they do or do not contain. One of the few points researchers agree on is that student surveys should be only one measure of teaching effectiveness.

Student ratings provide an important but limited view of a course and fail to capture many of the evidence-based strategies that improve student learning (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020). They generally do a good job of measuring student perceptions and satisfaction but “do not measure directly how much or how well a class of students has learned or any other aspect of achievement” (Abrami, d’Apollonia, and Rosenfield, 2007, p. 394). They also do not “match or measure the full range of academic functions nor ever-increasing obligations of faculty” (Wallace, Lewis, and Allen, 2019, p. 9). Nor do they reflect the innovative approaches that instructors have taken to improve student learning, especially during extraordinary circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic.

KU’s own policies reflect the need for multiple sources of evidence about an instructor’s teaching. Even so, the use of multiple measures is widely ignored, leading to a loss of trust in the evaluation system (Austin, Sorcinelli and McDaniels, 2007). That became readily apparent early in the pandemic as faculty demanded that student survey results be excluded from personnel files, arguing that students would not account for the unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic or understand the significant work involved in shifting to remote teaching. Those concerns underscore the need to follow university policy and broaden the approach used to evaluate teaching.  

The research literature also makes clear that student surveys of teaching should be grounded in a shared understanding of good teaching. They rarely are. Students, faculty and administrators often have differing views, and criteria vary widely across and within schools, departments and disciplines (Abrami, d’Apollonia, and Rosenfield, 2007). KU has no single definition at the university level, although questions on student surveys send a message about what should be valued.

This overview of literature (.docx) highlights key areas of agreement, disagreement and concern about student surveys of teaching. It draws from a wide range of literature and is intended to provide an overview of the scholarly thinking about student surveys. It is far from comprehensive, and it is not intended to argue against the use of student surveys of teaching. The student voice is a crucial component in the evaluation of teaching. An earlier version of this literature review provided context and guidance for the Task Force on Student Surveys of Teaching in 2020-21, and is now intended to provide context to the changes that were made in KU’s standard survey starting in Spring 2021.

How to use evidence from KU's student survey of teaching

KU's current student survey of teaching was developed by a university task force in 2020-2021 and used for the first time in Spring 2021. The redesigned survey is intended to capture student perspectives on a course and its instructors while reducing bias as much as possible. This document on Interpreting Results from the Student Survey of Teaching (.pdf) explains the structure of the new survey and offers suggestions for using data from it. The suggestions and examples can guide instructors in using the feedback to reflect on and improve their teaching and integrate student responses into a narrative about their teaching. The guidance can also help supervisors, evaluation committees and peer reviewers see how to use the student feedback as one source of evidence for gauging an instructor's teaching effectiveness. A separate guide focuses on ways to use aggregate data from student surveys (.pdf)

The results of the redesigned student survey of teaching can be integrated into the Benchmarks for Teaching Effectiveness Framework, which CTE developed to help instructors and institutions gather, interpret and use evidence of teaching effectiveness. The document above includes information about how the survey items align with the Benchmarks dimensions. Here are two additional evaluation tools that map the new survey items, along with other sources of information, onto the Benchmarks rubric dimensions: