The spring semester is coming to a close, which means that many of us will soon be receiving our teaching evaluations for the semester. We’ve discussed course evaluations before on ProfHacker: Brian has tips for getting the most out of your evaluations; Jason has suggestions for interpreting the data on evaluations; and Heather has considered what to do when student evaluations totally miss the mark (and recently shared our readers’ ideas as well). I’ll add to the discussion of course evaluations with a simple question:
When is the best time to read teaching evaluations?
Up until recently it never occurred to me to read my evals any other time than the moment I received them. In some institutions this may be as soon as grades are officially turned in, in others, it may not be until weeks or months after the semester is over. But whenever it is, I assumed the default move was to tear open the envelope and read your evaluations the minute you had them in hand.
But last week I heard an intriguing piece of advice: don’t read your course evaluations until it’s time to teach that particular course again, whether it’s a semester later or years later. The theory is that if you’re not reading them in the heat of the moment, with the course and the students still fresh in your mind, it’s easier to be more objective about the evaluations. They hurt less and mean more.
Also, you’re often in no position at the end of the semester to change anything about the course, so why not maximize their effectiveness by reading them when you are in a position to take them into account—right before you teach that particular class again.
Have you tried this delayed use of evaluations? Does it work for you? When do you think is the best time to read evaluations?
[Disapproval photograph courtesy of Flickr user striatic / Creative Commons Licensed]