Improving Course Evaluations

Overview and Introduction: The WHAT and WHO

Course Evaluations are an important, but often overlooked process in engineering education. Course evaluations provide an avenue for students to evaluate instructors, and are often used in promotion and tenure processes. This is a brief guide on how to improve your course evaluations without compromising standards for learning in your course. All instructors for all types of classes can benefit from improved course evaluations.

Implementation and Timing: The WHEN, WHERE, and HOW

Formal course evaluations are administered automatically near the end of the semester by each College.  This resource describes the process for the Fulton Schools of Engineering, but it will be similar in other colleges/units, and our tips below should apply broadly. Course evaluations and informal feedback surveys are administered anonymously, and online.

Typically, the evaluation form for students opens approximately 1 week before the last scheduled day of classes, and closes one day before the last day of scheduled classes for the course. Several weeks after the final grades are due, the course evaluation report becomes available.

It is possible and recommended to gather informal feedback from your students throughout the semester through the “My Feedback” tool at the instructor evaluation website. This can be done as often as every two weeks, but once or twice per semester before the final course evaluation is recommended. Let your students evaluate you as often as you evaluate them- at mid-term and final exams!

Course evaluations provide valuable feedback from students about the course materials, content, structure, and policies that students may not be comfortable sharing in any other format.  At the end of semester evaluations, the first 22 questions are multiple choice, and provide general feedback on the course materials, structure, instruction quality, and some demographic information.  The final questions are open response questions focusing on what students did or did not like about the course and general comments.  During the evaluation process students can also nominate instructors for Outstanding Teaching awards.

The end of semester course evaluations are used by school administrators to identify problems with course instruction, as well as support tenure and promotion processes.  The Fulton Schools Top 5% Teaching Award is primarily based on the value of these scores and the response rate of students in your courses.

Ways to improve your course evaluations:

1. Increase your evaluation response rate.

Many students do not complete the course evaluations because it is not required, they do not perceive it as useful, and they do not believe it is taken seriously by instructors. Raise teaching evaluation response rate by giving a very small extra credit assignment [4] for submitting a screenshot of the “completed” page. Here is an example assignment, this can be setup in Canvas as a file submission assignment:

“In order to improve this course and my teaching skills, I rely on you to give honest, constructive, and anonymous feedback at the end of each semester.  This feedback is very important to me, as it helps me become the best instructor possible.

Complete your course evaluation for this class at

Take a minute to reflect on what you’ve learned and accomplished in this course, maybe glance at the schedule to refresh yourself.  

Please leave detailed, constructive feedback, as this helps me improve most.

Take a screenshot of your completed summary screen with a green check next to this course.  Do not submit a screenshot of the survey! Keep it anonymous! Submit the screenshot to this assignment for credit.”

During the evaluation period, spend 10 minutes of class time talking about how the evaluation process is important to you, what the evaluation looks like from your perspective (totally anonymous) and how you use the results to improve your teaching.  Here is a video recording of an example presentation to students on the importance of completing course evaluations. It is important that this is a personal message, so take class time to do this.

Make the response rate a game between your courses.  For example: “Any class that gets a 100% response rate gets donuts during the final exam.”

2. Request Informal Evaluation Feedback 1-2 times before the end of the semester.

Using the “My Feedback” tool at the course evaluation site you can set up an anonymous informal evaluation survey. The results of these surveys are not shared with administrators, only you will be able to see the results. The first few question types (1-9) are Likert Scale questions, but you can modify the question prompt. The final question is an open response question, and you can modify the prompt here as well. It is a good idea to ask a specific question as opposed to a generic comment prompt. Here are some examples:

-What do you like about the course so far? What do you dislike?

-Do you have any suggestions for the instructor to improve student learning?

-What should the instructor start doing, stop doing, or continue doing?

3. Critically Evaluate Your Instruction.

After receiving results, critically evaluate your instruction through the perspective of your students, using your course evaluation comments as a guide.  Modify your course and structure to better achieve learning objectives and minimize difficulties that students experience as barriers to learning.

As you review your results, the Likert Scale scores are helpful to identify areas of improvement, but do not provide much context for specific improvements. Look to the open response comments for this context. Read each comment, and make notes about what the students are expressing as problems in the course. Engineering students will often express problems they are experiencing in forms that do not express the underlying problem – for example, a student might note “The amount of work is unrealistic” which may mean that the student was not able to find help resources, or struggled with scheduling issues, or that the course content did not fully support what they were expected to complete as an assignment. When reviewing the results of your informal and formal course evaluations, it is important to resist taking the feedback personally [2]. This is an opportunity for improvement in your classroom. Once you have a list of the most frequently mentioned issues, brainstorm improvements that you can make. This might be as simple as changing the day things are due each week, or offering additional office hours, to converting your course to a flipped classroom.

4. Professional Development.

Engage in professional development of your teaching skills, such as Active Learning and Effective Assessment Techniques.

Rationale and Research: The WHY

Benton [1] gives an excellent overview of the research on the validity and impact of course evaluations.  Course evaluations are utilized in the promotion and tenure review process, and are correlated with student performance on learning objectives [3].  Making improvements to your courses based on student feedback will make the classroom a much more enjoyable experience for your students, and for yourself as you may have to deal with less complaints!

Additional Resources and References

Interested in learning more?  Here are additional readings on course evaluation topics as well as citations and links to articles referenced in this document.

[1] Benton, S. L., & Cashin, W. E. (2015). Student ratings of teaching: A summary of research and literature. IDEA paper no. 50. Center for faculty education and development. IDEA Center, Kansas State University. Retrieved from  .

[2] Carmack, Heather J., and Leah E. LeFebvre. “‘Walking on Eggshells’: Traversing the Emotional and Meaning Making Processes Surrounding Hurtful Course Evaluations.” Communication Education, vol. 68, no. 3, Routledge, 2019, pp. 350–70,

[3] Trinidad Beleche, David Fairris, Mindy Marks,“Do course evaluations truly reflect student learning? Evidence from an objectively graded post-test,” Economics of Education Review, Volume 31, Issue 5, 2012, Pages 709-719, ISSN 0272-7757,

[4] Sundstrom ED, Hardin EE, Shaffer MJ. Extra Credit Micro-Incentives and Response Rates for Online Course Evaluations: Two Quasi-Experiments. Teaching of Psychology. 2016;43(4):276-284. doi:10.1177/0098628316662754