Teaching Evaluation Comments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

All the Things are New

One aspect that I particularly love about my institution where I work is our ability to move quickly and make changes. We had been using the same online system for teaching evaluations for quite a long time (perhaps a decade?) and made a change in format, questions, scale and focus this past year. The instrument actually changed again in January in reaction to the previous semester I assume. I did not play a role in the design of the instrument but did give my feedback on early versions before it was released. As always, the comments are the most important section of teaching evaluations.

This past semester which covers January-May 2016 (or Winter 2016 as I like to call it) I implemented my first attempt at #abolishGrading.  I know, I know: I really need to share what that was all about. That will come in another post since this post is about teaching evaluations since I just received those yesterday and many educators are in that same situation.  If you want a reference to my main influence for #abolishGrading you can find an amazing resource at Joe Bower’s website. Joe suffered a heart attack in early January this year and is no longer with us but his legacy lives on through many educators and students whom he influenced.

The Good Comments

flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3638655803 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license
flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3638655803 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

To be honest, I am extremely pleased with the comments received from my students as well as the blog posts and videos I requested them outside of the traditional evaluation system.

I’ll start off with one of the longer comments as an example from those received. Note that of my 96 students, 88 answered the student evaluation of teachers (91.66% participation) and 67 written comments (76% of those participating in the survey) were left.

The mix of comments are similar to what I see in various semesters and later I may share more insight from them and perhaps a link to all of the comments and data.  For now I provide samples here.

lo recomiendo mucho porque en su clase siempre estás aprendiendo cosas nuevas, pero lo que mas me gustó de llevar clases con Ken es que tu como alumno siempre tienes la opción de decidir si a haces las cosas o si no las haces, si las haces bien, o si las haces mal, si las haces con tiempo o todo al último, y a pesar de que es algo nuevo para mi, me gustó mucho porque es un reto, porque a pesar de que tienes todo el semestre para entregar las cosas, te retas a ti mismo para hacerlo antes y además hacerlo bien. Felicidades Ken y gracias por enseñar de un forma diferente a los demás, es algo que inspira.

These are the comments that make our day. These are better than coffee on Monday morning.  I’ll translate loosely here and welcome my native speaking friends to correct me in the comments. Ffeel free to plug this into your favourite translation engine if you like. The points made are:

  • I recommend him because in his class you are always learning new things
  • but what I like most about classes with Ken is that you as the student always have the option to decide if you do things or don’t do things, to decide if you do them well or poorly, to decide if you do them on time or all at the last minute.
  • and despite be something new for me (the student), I like this a lot because this is a challenge
  • because despite having the entire semester to submit your work, you challenge yourself to deliver them before and do them well
  • congratulations Ken and thanks for teaching in way different from the rest, this is something that inspires.

Again, there are many more. I need to review each comment individually over the summer but of those 67 comments I would classify more than half in the “very to extremely satisfied” scale and only three in the “very dissatisfied” bucket.  See below in the “Ugly” section for one example of those three comments.

I will share some videos through this piece but here I share one of my favourites from the semester from Paola. This is one of my favourites due to length (short), in English (not her native language but many of my students relish the chance to practice) and it has humour. This is Paola being Paola and it shows. Find her on Twitter for more from her or check out her blog for the course.

The Bad or Perhaps Reflection

flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3639465050 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license
flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3639465050 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Yes, the use of the movie title is a trope. I wouldn’t say bad but room for improvement and my initial thoughts about the feedback received and how I plan to take that into next semester. Traditionally I make large shifts in my pedagogy every January and use the summer to refine and polish what I have learned to implement in August.

I will reserve the very critical comments of which there were three from the total of the sixty seven for the next section.

Since this is the middle section I will share more neutral comments which perhaps are a mix of “good”, “bad” and “ugly”. Again, I am planning to release “all the data” but want to decide how to do that and welcome suggestions in the comments below.

This first one is actually from my #TC201 (TC2017 – Object-Oriented Programming) group which is the first time I have taught this course. I will treat these evaluations differently since the “new course for me” factor will definitely have an effect on feedback from the course. This also combines with a mix of students that were previously with me in #TC101 and others who would be in my class for the first time.

Su método de abolishgrading es muy bueno, pero difícil de acostumbrarse, ya que requiere de comprobar tu conocimiento con publicaciones en un blog personal. Como muchos de nosotros estudiantes, estamos acostumbrados a que nos arreen para que hagamos las cosas, tengo que confesar que me costó mucho trabajo al principio ya que no publicaba nada en mi blog. Pero opino que no es por que no funcione, sino por que nos hace falta un cambio de cultura en el que nos preocupe aprender y no sólo obtener una buena nota, Me gustó mucho esta manera de evaluar del profesor Bauer, espero tener otra clase con él, lo recomiendo al 100% pero es muy necesario, ponerle atención al primer día de clases en el que él explica su método de enseñanza. Uno de los mejores profesores con unas de las mejores ideas, que lastimosamente, “chocan” con nuestra cultura tan holgazana que algunos tenemos. 100%recomendable

The interesting points for me in that comment are the struggle the students have with the changes inherent in new models (for the student) of learning.  The student talks about the change of culture to be concerned themselves about learning and not just “the grade”.  The student gives me good feedback about making the system clear from the first day of classes which I agree with since I have learned so much from this first instance of #abolishGrading that I need to apply in future semesters. Also in there are positive recommendations for my course in general.

The next one is from a #TC101 student (TC1017 – Solving Problems with Programming). And this next one is long, I apologize to the reader but some excellent points are contained here and I must give the student justice for putting so much effort into the comment:

En esta clase tuvimos un método de aprendizaje nuevo que realmente me gustó bastante. De una vez advierto que si no estas listo para hacerte responsable por tus acciones y tu educación, es muy mala idea tomar clase con Ken. La manera de aprender, en mi opinión, es cuando algo te gusta y te interesa. Ken no es el tipo de profesor que se para frente a la pizarra para darte una lección por día, en cambio el te deja hacer un programa en el que tu debes investigar como hacerlo para poder aprender la lección. Tampoco no crean que es una clase en la que el no hace nada; al contrario, ken siempre está preguntando que quien necesita ayuda y viendo que están haciendo todos, lo que el busca es que tengas interés por aprender, que tu tomes acción y el te acompañara en el transcurso. En verdad este método de aprendizaje es increíble. Lo digo porque yo adquirí más conocimientos de los que pensé que podría en este curso y quiero recalcar no ken no me dio la lección para poder aprender. Siento que el mismo método de la misma manera no aplicaría para otras materia que no sean programación pero la ideología sí. Por ejemplo si fuera una clase de matemáticas,física,química,entre otros creo que el cambio sería hacer que los alumnos vean un video en casa sobre el tema y después llegar a la clase ya con un poco de conocimiento. De esta forma al llegar a clase pueden enfocarse en las dudas y ejemplos y fortalecer lo aprendido en el video.

Some reflection here on how to apply this same method (which apparently the student agrees with) into other courses. One point I am taking from here is to push myself to create more video content on the concepts in my courses as resources for my students. I have been putting that off for too long for various reasons (another blog post perhaps to discuss that). Thanks to this student and others for giving me actionable feedback in their comments.

I definitely don’t categorize this video as bad,  I’m going to balance each section with a video selection. This is María Fernanda (@mfcanov on Twitter) a student of IMD (Biomedicine) who I enjoyed discussing health and biochemistry with during our classes. That makes two semesters in a row of great blogs from two Maria Fernanda students. See the poetry (YES, poetry!) from Maria Fernanda of the previous semester.

Her review of the course titled Class Review includes a link to the video:


The Ugly Comments and more Good

flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3638616427 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license
flickr photo by MacQ https://flickr.com/photos/macq/3638616427 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

There are always going to be the “ugly” comments but even if we disagree with them, I don’t think we should just wave them away without thought. These students took the time to write these comments instead of simply not answering the survey or leaving the comment field blank. So let’s take a look at these three comments in particular. Again, I am including the comments verbatim so they are left in the original language (Spanish) without editing or correction for grammar and spelling.

I’ll start with the longest response in the category of “room for improvement”:

En mi sincera opinión, no es un buen profesor, para nada. Cuando llegaba a la clase si nos mencionó que era aprender por tu encuenta, pero, está mal, porque para nosotros como IMT debemos de tener unas bases bien sólidas, debido a que lo veremos más adelante. Solo una vez se puso a explicarnos respecto a arreglos, no lo hizo mal, pero aun así no nos explicó completo el tema. He hablado con compañeros de semestres más arriba y me mencionaban que antes les enseñaba y que no era nada malo, no dudo que el profesor sea malo, pero no es sencillo ver ee tipo de temas por tu cuenta, necesitas una guía desde el principio y Ken no nos la brindaba. En casos así siento que mi dinero se va a la nada, pueden tener razón, que el alumno vea e investigue por su cuenta, no es algo malo, admito que me a ayudado esa parte, pero no estoy pagando para que internet me enseñe.

It is common when moving to a student centred classroom that some of the students are going to react to this big shift in responsibilities. This happens every semester and this is an example of a comment that I receive each semester. Under no circumstances does this cause me to panic and decide to revert to a lecture, homework, quiz, exam mode of teaching but I find it interesting the phrase (translating here) about “one needing a guide from the beginning and Ken didn’t offer us that”.  I would think this student didn’t feel supported or pushed by the teacher (me) and my lesson here is to make more effort to reach these particular students in my groups at the beginning of the semester in particular.

I will note that the student takes a stance of speaking for all IMT (Mechantronics program students) when I have various videos, blogs and other (anonymous) comments on the survey from IMT students expressing differing opinions. See above in particular and videos here from Orlando and Ernesto (both IMT students)

. You can find Orlando on Twitter or at his blog for more as well as Ernesto on Twitter or at his blog.

First Ernesto, his blog contains a post #TC101 Course Review where he has two videos shared about the course. Go read what he says on the blog post, I will include the two videos here (part 1 and 2).

And also Orlando who did some excellent work going above and beyond what I expected a student to achieve in this course. Remember this is basically CS1 (first course in computer programming):

Your Turn

What are your thoughts on teaching evaluations? Perhaps you are a teacher, student or administrator and would like to contribute to the conversation. The reason I am sharing is to force myself to reflect deeper as well as to invite others to the conversation.


3 Replies to “Teaching Evaluation Comments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. Creo que todos los sistemas de enseñanza tienen “lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo”. Como maestro es difícil el cambio, romper esquemas y enfrentarse a culturas que en el fondo siguen creyendo que lo tradicional es la única manera de aprender.
    El sentido pedagógico de flipped learning no es nuevo, que los alumnos se responsabilicen de su propio aprendizaje ( a pesar de que el sistema educativo se niega a siquiera discutir lo que implica y sólo lo disfraza) es una idea que circula desde hace mucho, sin embargo la forma es completamente nueva para mi.
    Yo trabajo con maestros y es difícil que hagan cambios por miedo al fracaso, por centrarse en los comentarios negativos, es decir, si 30 alumnos los retroalimentas positivo pero dos dicen algo feo, se centran en esos dos y no en los otros 30.
    Estoy de acuerdo con Ken Bauer que para iniciar estos cambios el maestro debe estar convencido del sistema, de lo que esta haciendo y para qué, de manera que pueda ir resolviendo los conflictos que se presenten, soportar las criticas y crecer ante éstas.
    Yo trabajo en una secundaria, acompañando al equipo docente en el modelo educativo de la institución, en lo pedagógico y metodológico. La propuesta de flipped learning me parece interesante pero muy retadora. Prometo investigar más sobre ella y procurar, por lo menos, compartirla con mis docentes y motivar que se animen a probarla.
    Gracias Ken Bauer por compartirnos tu experiencia

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