Course Evaluations and Their Uses- Initial Thoughts

It surprises me that we haven’t yet made a post about course evaluations. Perhaps because this blog focuses more on preparing to teach and then actually teaching a course, we have paid relatively little attention to date to what happens at the end of a course besides handing out grades.

It is important, however, to pay attention to course evaluations, because they play such a significant role in tools that teachers can use to self-evaluate, but also because administrations use them to evaluate teaching effectiveness. This latter point is incredibly important for those who are in a tenure-track position, but also important for all others whose performance will be measured in part through course evaluations.

For starters, please read the article “How to Use Student Evaluations Wisely” by Professor David D. Perlmutter,, Dean of the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University.

In it, he discusses how such evaluations can be and are used both by administrators as well as by faculty. In future posts, I will discuss my take on course evaluations and address some of the points Professor Perlmutter makes.

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End of Year Review

All schools do ‘em in one way or another. Your job is to figure out your school’s expectations for End of Year reviews.

  • Make sure you are familiar with your contract’s breakdown of what is important and by how much. For instance, a research institution might require Teaching, Research and Service, but the breakdown might be 30%, 60%, 10% respectively. If you find yourself on 10 committees before you make tenure at the expense of your research, you will not have fulfilled expectations, even though you have worked hard. On the other hand, a teaching college might put more emphasis on service and teaching, so you might have a larger portfolio of committees, even as you attempt to keep your art practice flourishing.
  • Document everything you do on an ongoing basis so when end of the year comes around, you can pull up those folders and not start from scratch each time. Typically, an End of Year review will build upon the previous ones. This includes teaching activities (rewriting curriculum, collecting documentation of student work, assessment data), conference participation (don’t just go to conferences, participate in them), professional activities (writing articles, curatorial, sitting on community advisory boards), research, collaboration, service (including fun things like advising student art clubs and organizing field trips).
  • Vary your documentation – remember those who look at your review material need some variety. A slideshow documentation of a field trip you organized can be a fabulous break from the same old dry narratives.
  • Some institutions might require you to write a narrative of your activities, or of highlights. Tenure reviews most certainly will require this, so keeping active in this area, varying what you write about and engaging in a multiplicity of activities will help out here. Consider how important it is for your activities to engage in your teaching – for instance, how did that exhibition you put up affect your students?
  • Check on your tenure review requirements your first year on the job. There are many things that you can begin to prepare for immediately, be clear about the requirements and begin handling them your first year, forging the connections and fulfilling your responsibilities, so that you can create a balanced approach during your tenure year.
  • If you don’t have a new faculty mentor, ask for one.
  • Pace yourself and learn to say no. It is more important to hit your ratio (see above) and be actively engaged than to over commit and spread yourself too thin. No one expects a new faculty member to do everything. Find a good balance between being the team contributor your colleagues expect and overdoing it, especially in the first years on the job.
  • Remember, your End of Year review might need to be submitted in December – if you get in the habit of documenting regularly and at the time of the event, you’ll be one step ahead when the data is due.

More thoughts about keeping records of student work

More thoughts about keeping records of student work:

  • Check on your school’s policy on copying student work. My school has a policy that when students sign up for class, they agree to their work being used for educational purposes. Yours may not! I have worked at schools that required each student to fill out a permission form.
  • When I teach digital photo courses, I make documentation a part of assignments. For instance, I might have students turn in a Lightroom catalog for me so that I can see what they have done, but I will also request they turn in a folder of resized jpgs – small enough and properly formatted for web distribution. This serves several purposes: I develop am ample trove of student work examples that I use in future classes, for course assessment purposes or end of year faculty review, but it also is invaluable for students to learn how to present their work for exhibition applications, juried shows, grad school apps, job apps…. Which almost invariably request work samples in digital form.
  • I remind students that “I am the client” when they submit work – it needs to be presented in a professional manner and I teach best practices.
  • Be consistent with how you collect work and anticipate the future (ex. 640 px long image was standard 5 years ago, 1000 px is standard now and 1500 px will be standard soon…)
  • Make documentation of work a regular class assignment, especially if you work outside of the photographic fields. If you do not offer a portfolio, business of art, or exhibition course where this type of workshop would naturally form part of the coursework, teaching students how to properly document their work should form a part of your curriculum, if only as a workshop for all discipline students.
  • Team up with photo students to present workshops on documenting work, although you would be surprised at how many photo students don’t know how to do this well!