Stanford invites faculty to customize new course evaluations

The university has created a new course evaluation form that faculty members can customize by identifying the learning goals of the course and adding questions of their own. The deadline for faculty to customize course evaluations for autumn quarter is Nov. 13.

L.A. Cicero students with papers and laptop computers at a table

Students can use their laptops, tablets or smartphones to complete the new course evaluations.

At the end of the current academic quarter, Stanford students will complete new course evaluations that emphasize the quality of their learning and are tailored specifically to the format, teaching practices and learning goals of individual classes.

The new course evaluations represent a significant change for Stanford because the questions – both standard and customized – are designed to elicit responses about the success of the course in promoting student learning. Previous course evaluation forms focused almost exclusively on the performance of the instructor.

Faculty members will soon receive an email notification with a link to the online course customization form and an invitation to visit the course evaluation website for guidelines on customizing their course evaluation forms by identifying specific, measurable learning goals for each of the classes they teach.

In addition, faculty members are invited to select up to five elements of each course, such as lectures, sections, readings, textbooks, problem sets, online components and field trips, for students to evaluate. Finally, faculty have the opportunity to add questions of their own to the new course evaluations; the website offers guidelines for creating open-ended and closed-ended questions.

The deadline for faculty to customize course evaluations for autumn quarter is Nov. 13.

The course evaluation website provides detailed information about how the new forms were designed, how to use them and how to interpret the results. Consultants in the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning are available to help individual faculty members get started with the new evaluations and make the most of them.

The new course evaluation has 12 standard questions, including open-ended questions, such as "What skills or knowledge did you learn or improve?" and closed-ended questions such as "How much did you learn from this course?" followed by a selection of responses: "a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, nothing."

A faculty-staff committee appointed in 2012 by Provost John Etchemendy developed the new course evaluations. In addition to polling faculty widely and examining the practices of peer institutions, the committee conducted formal focus groups with hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.

Russell Berman, a professor of German studies and of comparative literature who served as chair of the 11-member committee, said the group heard widespread dissatisfaction with the previous course evaluation form. Students found it long and cumbersome, he said, and resented its "one-size-fits-all approach."

The new course evaluations are easier and quicker for students to fill out, and students can use their laptops, tablets or smartphones to complete them.

Berman said the committee recommended that faculty members set aside 10 to 15 minutes during the last week of class for students to begin filling out the evaluations in class. By administering the evaluation in class, faculty members will have the opportunity to explain the importance of evaluations as a way to improve teaching and learning at Stanford.

He said the new course evaluations encourage students to reflect thoughtfully on their own role in the learning process.

"We believe the new course evaluation process will focus student attention on the effectiveness of learning, including their own responsibility for learning, rather than on their likes and dislikes about the instructor," Berman said.