Laura Gibbs

End-of-Semester Evals: Grading and Creativity

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Dec 19, 2018

Hi everybody! I gave myself a break at the end of semester to work on a new project (more about that in a separate post), but I rejoined the digital world today, getting caught up with Community stuff (check out the blogging challenge! Reflect and Celebrate | January 2019 Blogging Challenge)... and since we just got our end-of-semester evaluations today, I wanted to write up a post about that. Every semester, I go through the comments back from the students; I absolutely loathe the number part of the evaluation (they rank faculty against each other with percentiles, which I think is awful, even worse than ABCDF grading)... but I really value getting comments back from students.


How I Use the Comments. Admittedly, the evaluations can be kind of overwhelming since students' comments can be all over the place, so what I've been doing for a couple of years now is to read the comments and then focus in on two issues that are most important to me: grading and creativity. I do not do any grading in my classes and instead ask the students to do their own grading (more about that here), so it's important to me to know that this unusual system is okay with them. I also choose to build the courses around the students' own creative work, which is definitely not what students expect, so it's important for me to know that this is a good choice on my part. If I got feedback from students that they do not like the grading approach and/or that they do not like the creative writing, then I would redesign my classes.


But as I learn from the evaluations, semester after semester, the students report high satisfaction with the approach to the grading and they also report that the creative aspects of the classes are what they like most -- and that continued to be the case this semester. You can see the collected student comments here:






These two dimensions of the class are actually interconnected: one of the main reasons why I do not do any grading (lots of feedback, LOTS of feedback -- but no grading) is in order to free up a sense of creative experimentation. For more about promoting creativity, here's a presentation on creativity I did for Can*Innovate this fall.


Anyway, having this focus for analyzing the feedback from students every semester has been really helpful for me, and I am so grateful that Michelle Pacansky-Brock suggested to me several years ago the idea of harvesting comments from students like this as testimony to the un-grading approach. Because that was so successful, I decided to start doing the comments about creativity also. 


Cool Option at OU! And here's something really cool that is available at my school (University of Oklahoma) because of our online evaluation system: if I ever want to add another search term to analyze every semester, the evaluation system we use allows me to get a PDF file that contains ALL the student comments for ALL the courses I've taught since back in 2010, which is when our evaluation system went online. It's a trick you can use with the dropdown menu. The default display is for the current semester only, but if you scroll all the way up to the top of the dropdown you will see "all semesters" and then you can click on "Export to PDF" to get a total compendium of all courses for all semesters since Fall 2010:

screenshot of dropdown menu


In my case, it generates a PDF that is 203 pages long! The PDF contains all the evaluations from all the courses for the past 19 semesters. So, a gigantic report like that is too long to read (although I guess you could read it... that would be a weird experience, ha ha), but it is perfect for searching on a text string. 


screenshot of evaluation PDF


You can use that same trick to get all courses for a single semester as a single PDF also. That's what I now do each semester: I generate the PDF for the current semester, use Control-A to select all, and then copy into a text document. Then, I search on grad* and creat* to find the new comments on grading and creativity which I copy-and-paste into my ongoing collections.


So, if you are starting a collection from scratch, you can use the "all semesters" option to get going, and then just update your collection each semester with new comments, getting a picture over time of the topics that are important to you as a teacher. I really hate the numbers (and, yes, ugh, the number charts are in the PDF also), but the student comments are the most important information I have for strategizing about course design, and I really appreciate how easy it is for me to get a searchable text of those student comments in order to look for patterns in the feedback from semester to semester.


Happy End-of-Semester, everybody!!!



cat looking at computer

Look for patterns in the feedback.