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Debate on teaching evaluations

How can teaching evaluations provide greater value? This was the central issue under discussion at an after-work meeting on teaching evaluation for students, teaching staff, heads of department and directors of studies.

While students’ evaluations of their courses can contribute to improving the quality of education, there are several dilemmas associated with these evaluations. At an after-work meeting about teaching evaluations, Tue Vinther-Jørgensen, special consultant at the Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA), explained that the major challenge is ensuring coherence between the purpose of the evaluation, its contents and the method applied. Read more in EVA’s  report, which is based on experience with teaching evaluation from twelve degree programmes at five institutions, including universities, university colleges and business academies.

Challenges and solutions

Lone Koefoed Hansen, associate professor at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies, is also interested in what specific measures might improve the usability of the students’ input. She proposes the following:

"We need to make the purpose of the evaluations more visible, and then we must ask the right questions. Another important element is dialogue and constructive criticism between teachers. All aspects of teaching ought to be included in our dialogue with our colleagues, and we as teachers need to have the possibility of talking about the evaluations and learning from each other.”

She also sees challenges associated with the current evaluations: 

“In their most common form, the evaluations can be experienced as resource-intensive and not particularly relevant. In addition, we see response rates as low as 12 per cent, which is not particularly motivating. In addition, some teachers find that students’ evaluations focus more on the teacher than on the teaching. However, these evaluations are mandatory, and so I try to get the most possible out of them in connection with my own teaching by making the questions concrete and tailored to the particular course. A few colleagues and I have developed some different questions in our evaluations which help give them more value. 

Pro-rector for Education Berit Eika recognises the challenges and dilemmas described by Lone Kofoed Hansen, and explains that we need to constantly consider them:

“At the same time, we do see good examples of situations in which the evaluations are perceived as helpful, so I hope that we will see many more initiatives like Lone’s in future, where both teachers and students actively engage in supplementing the evaluations and initiate a good dialogue on quality.”

Standardised evaluations on the way

In response to external pressure to make the students’ evaluations visible, AU is currently working on implementing a university-wide evaluation platform that meets the needs of the departments and centres, while at the same time meeting growing external requirements with regard to documentation of the university’s teaching evaluation efforts, for example in relation to institutional accreditation. This was also debated at the meeting. Berit Eika explained:

“For the university-wide platform, we have selected a set of questions, and we are also working to make it possible for the individual degree programmes to add the questions they need. However, it’s also important to remember that teaching evaluations are just one among many ways of gathering information. The most important is still dialogue between the parties involved.”

Panel debate

The last item on the agenda for the after-work meeting was a panel debate during which participants had an opportunity to contribute their perspectives and questions. Among the issues discussed were teachers’ possibilities for evaluating each other, the implementation of the new university-wide evaluations, and the tension between control and development.

Further information

Read the presenters’ Power Point presentations (in Danish):

  • Tue Vinther-Jørgensen, the Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA) - power points.
  • Lone Kofoed Hansen, associate professor at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies, Aarhus University - power points + video

If you would like to learn more about the event, you are welcome to contact Kirsten Brusgård, adviser to the pro-rector.