Academic leadership and learning and teaching

Responding to Evaluation

Information about individual modules usually comes from a variety of sources: end of unit evaluation, student representation at committees, external examiners’ reports, informal conversations with students, student performance levels, student attendance levels and tutor reflections. They need to be combined to get an accurate picture of the overall ‘performance’ of the unit and to decide what kinds of enhancement may be needed.  Information from unit evaluation will be used to inform enhancement of modules and courses, and will also feed into institutional evaluations and reviews.

Because units are usually taught and managed by individuals or very small teams, people may feel very sensitive about the results of these kinds of evaluation. Linet Arthur (2009) has analysed the responses of academic staff to student evaluation, and has classified them into four categories (figure 1 below). They may seem familiar to you. The most constructive kinds of enhancement come from people who are able to take an approach of ‘reframing’ what they do with students in a positive way.

figure 1: responses to student evaluation - after Arthur (2009)

diagram showing responses to student evaluation

It is important to try to approach this task without the ‘blame’ or ‘shame’ contexts identified by Arthur. Nobody teaches perfectly all the time; no units remain the same for long; nobody ever has the ideal teaching environment.  Try asking any experienced, popular lecturer if things always go well for them in the classroom: you may be heartened to find that they also have bad days: what makes them effective is their ability to learn from those bad days and to change their practices for the next time.

Don’t just focus on the negative aspects of student evaluation: there will also be things that students like about your teaching, and identifying these elements will give you building blocks for further development and enhancement. They may also highlight effective innovative practice that you can share with colleagues. Aim to situate your response in the ‘reframing’ quadrant of Arthur’s diagram.

Quick Wins

If you have identified a need for change, then try to start with something small: a quick win, in the jargon of change management. It will demonstrate to students your willingness to respond to feedback and help to build your confidence. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Particularly for mid-year surveys, talk to students about the evaluations. If they’ve made concrete suggestions for change, talk through with them what the practicalities might be. What are the implications of change? How can they get involved?
  • If students have said that some of the lectures are boring, think about using one new technique next time, review it, consolidate in a second session, and then try for another technique in a third session. You could vary the way you start or end the lecture, or add a video clip, or introduce a new activity half way through. This won’t take you very long to prepare or evaluate, and you can build your techniques over time.
  • Perhaps students say that they would like theoretical lectures to have more grounding with practical examples to make them more engaging and relevant to them: are there any techniques you can adapt in order to relate theory to real life? Have a look at the employability resources.
  • If students seem to be underperforming, or say that they are having difficulties in understanding, then try to vary your approach to explanation. Can you use diagrams, video clips, sound effects, or demonstrations?  Try to get some feedback from students about where they get lost – you can use the ‘one minute paper’ technique to get anonymous feedback; it is quick and easy to process, even for a large group, and may give you some clues as to the difficulties, which in turn should help you to come up with enhancements.
  • If it is taking a long time for students to get feedback from you, perhaps for reasons beyond your control, how about using generic feedback to the class to give them some idea of the common strengths and weaknesses for them to think about while they wait for individual feedback? Talk to them about the processes of marking and moderation, and why they can take time.
  • If students are asking for particular things, such as podcasts, or more use of the VLE, think about attending a workshop on new techniques. Talk to your Faculty Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor. It’s also worth finding out if your relevant professional body has an education section which provides workshops and mini-conferences on pedagogical issues.
  • If you are unhappy with your evaluations but the reasons for them aren’t clear, particularly on a unit you’ve taught for a long time, how about teaming up with a colleague to share teaching and assessment on both of your units?  Team teaching can be a lot of fun; it gives you both some peer support and probably some new ideas for your other teaching as well.


NB this is a version of pp 138-141 in Marr and Forsyth, (2010)

ARTHUR, L. 2009. From performativity to professionalism: lecturers' responses to student feedback. Teaching in Higher Education, 14, 441 - 454.
MARR, L. & FORSYTH, R. 2010. Identity Crisis: Working in HE in the 21st century, Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books.