“I don’t read my student evaluations of teaching”

FIGURE 11.2 360-degree feedback

At a recent meeting about the evaluation of teaching, a faculty member bravely disclosed: “I don’t read my student evaluations of teaching”.

I held my breath as I gauged the reaction of the other committee members, all of whom were in positions of authority/power in their department, faculties, or schools when it came to the evaluation of teaching.

“The ratings and comments,” she continued “do not help me improve my students’ learning.” She described her experience of having read previous evaluations as distressing and confusing. This was not a case of an uncaring, uncommitted instructor. This was a situation of intentional self-care.

At about this time of the year, instructors at the University of British Columbia (UBC) receive the results of their online student evaluations of teaching (SEoT). As someone who works in the field of enhancing teaching and learning, I encourage instructors to review the students’ ratings and comments. I will continue to do so but I hold a sincere recognition of how anxiety-producing it can be for instructors (those who have received strong ratings in the past and those who haven’t).

In my role as an educational developer, I have a deep concern for faculty member wellness. And while I am delighted by all the attention being put to student wellness, I think there needs to be the same attention put to the health and well-being of faculty members.  With that in mind, and tying back to the issue of student evaluations of teaching, below are a few suggestions for alleviating the stress associated with reading one’s evaluations.

If you are feeling stressed about reading your SEoT, here are some suggestions for things to do before you read the results:

  • ask a trusted friend or educational developer from your teaching and learning centre to read your SEoTs before you do and summarize the results
  • “pick a good time to do so, when you will have enough time to digest at least some of the information, have privacy, and can give yourself some mental ‘space’ to analyze the information.” (Vanderbilt Center for Teaching)
  • “have a glass of wine” (suggested by my colleague)
  • do something that typically makes you feel good (i.e., exercise, listening to an upbeat song, etc)

This Chronicle article and the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching have helpful suggestions for things you can do after you read your results.

I would love to hear from you on ways you prepare, ahead of time, to read and process your SEoT results.  Please leave your comments below.


Photo credit: Jurgen Appelo Flickr https ://flic.kr/p/8VBCoV

Peer review of teaching videos

I’m excited to share a series of videos on the formative peer review of teaching. The purpose of these videos is to enhance understanding of, and skills for, the peer review of teaching. These videos are for both reviewers and reviewees.
The videos can be found on the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology’s YouTube Channel at the “Formative Peer Review of Teaching” playlist: https://www.youtube.com/user/ctltresources/playlists

The specific videos are:
This project started as an attempt to create videos myself. The result was cheesy looking videos which were painstakingly long to create.
Since I am not a particularly patient person (my children and spouse would wholeheartedly agree), and because I appreciate high quality work, I was thrilled that, in the end, the videos were a produced with the expert help of Michael Sider and UBC Studios.
Please send me your feedback via email (isabeau.iqbal[at]ubc.ca), twitter (@isabeauiqbal) or in the comments box. You can, of course, leave comments on YouTube.

Documenting the impact of educational leadership in faculty member careers

Leadership quote

For just under a year, I have been involved in a collaborative project concerning educational leadership (EL) in faculty member careers.

This initiative involves (1) clarifying what EL is in the context of faculty member careers and (2) helping faculty members articulate the evidence and impact of their EL activities.The people with whom I am collaborating are Dr. Simon Bates (lead) and Dr. Simon Albon. Though my involvement is in the UBC context, this is part of a larger international Universitas 21 project.

One of the reasons that articulating evidence and impact of EL matters is because Educational Leadership Stream faculty must be able to do so to advance their careers (see note 1). However, since EL is a concept people are still trying to figure out, it is not yet ‘obvious’ what counts as evidence and how to communicate the impact.

We have begun to develop some resources to help with this and are workshopping them with faculty members and others to get their feedback.

The tool I wish to share about in this blog post is the Educational Leadership Mapping (ELM) tool.  The ELM tool is an organizing framework that can help instructors begin to categorize and make sense of their EL activities. This two-dimensional framework asks instructors to plot what they do related to teaching/learning and the forms of enactment. Learn more here.

Download the ELM tool here as a PowerPoint slide.

In our experience, faculty members have an easier time plotting along the horizontal axis than on the vertical; they can find it difficult to distinguish between “Manage” and “Lead” and may have a (negative) reaction to the word “manage”. The distinctions made on page 2 of The University of Glasgow’s Guidelines for Learning, Teaching & Scholarship Track may be helpful for distinguishing where to place an activity along the vertical (i.e., items in the Professorial list would match up best with “Lead”).

Our work is ongoing and we welcome your feedback. We will be presenting this work at the 2017 POD Conference in Montreal and I will be writing more posts on the topic as we prepare for that session.


Note 1: Though faculty members in the Educational Leadership stream MUST demonstrate EL, faculty members at all ranks and appointments may be engaging in EL.

Photocredit: https: //flic.kr/p/8X2jaV.photosteve101  planetofsuccess.com


Give students choice in their assignments

The other day, I was part of a focus group organized by an instructor so he could get student feedback on a group assignment he had designed and implemented for an intense 2-week module in a Health Sciences masters program. Participants were students who had completed the course last term. In that course, students could opt to complete a group project or an essay-based exam.

Toward the end of the focus group session, one of the students, we’ll call him Matt, said “I was confused why there was a choice in the course assignment”. He explained:  “I’ve never had a course where students can choose between a group project or an exam and I was curious why we were given a choice.”

I was stunned. What?! This student has never been given a choice in his final assignment? In my own teaching within the UBC Faculty of Education, I always give the students choice; and in my experience as a student in that Faculty, I seem to recall that was always the case.  I assumed it was fairly common practice.

In this post, I will briefly explore reasons to give choice in student assignments.


Giving students choice helps them establish relevance

When you offer students assignment choices, they engage in a decision making process about the pros and cons of the options presented. In making a choice, they need to figure out what is interesting (to them) and personally relevant (Carl Weiman Education Initiative, 2013). Sure, some (maybe even many) try to figure out which assignment will likely result in the highest grade. Nevertheless, all students have to consider the options and make some decisions based on what is most relevant and helpful to them, individually, at this time. This is drastically different from the instructor telling students why an assignment is relevant or simply assuming that the student can ‘see’ the relevance of doing a particular assignment. Along with their final submission, you may ask students to provide a 2-3 sentence explanation about why they chose assignment X–this might give you interesting insights.

Giving students choice taps into their motivation

In “How Learning Works” the authors write that “students’ motivation generates, directs, and sustains what they do to learn” (Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M., 2010, p.69). Read that one again–there’s a lot to it! I find it notable that the sentence doesn’t end with “sustains what they learn”, but rather with “sustains what they do to learn“. Motivation, defined in this way, is about the process of learning and is tied to the notion of learning goals. Ambrose et al. point out that when students are guided by their learning goals (as opposed to their performance goals) they attempt to “gain competence and truly learn what an activity or task can teach them” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p.72). As instructors, this is what we strive for.

Giving students choice can prompt creativity

Unsurprisingly, creativity is defined in various ways. Here is a definition I like from Creativity at Work: “Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.”

When students are not given every parameter for completing an assignment, they will engage in some creative processes. Creative thinking and critical thinking are connected and both are under the broader umbrella of learning.

As an instructor, I’ve been delighted on multiple occasions by the creativity students bring to their assignments when they are given choices.

Bonus benefit: Giving students choice makes marking more fun for the instructor

I don’t have any data on this, other than my own experience:

When I give students choice about their assignments (see here for example), I end up with a fair bit of variety. I have received videos, artwork, essays, mind maps with deep reflections, and more! This variety makes marking more fun for me.


Given that one of the key characteristics of learner-centered teaching is
“it motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes” (Weimer, 2013), then giving students choice is good learner-centered practice.

If this isn’t something you have tried, I strongly encourage you to do so! If you have any questions on how to go about this, I suggest you contact the teaching and learning centre at your post-secondary institution as I’m certain the fine folks there will be able to help you. You are also welcome to contact me.


Ambrose, S., M. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M. Lovett, and M. Norman (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Carl Weiman Education Initiative (2013). Motivating learning. Retrieved from http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/files/Motivating-Learning_CWSEI.pdf

Weimer, M. (2012). Five characteristics of  learner-centered teaching. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/five-characteristics-of-learner-centered-teaching/.


Photo credit: (By complete fluke the picture I picked is by Derek Bruff, a fellow educational developer). Link to Derek Bruff’s picture above: https ://flic.kr/p/9vpdf7

Formative assessment to enhance self-regulated learning

I recently re-read the paper “Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice” by Nichol and MacFarlane-Dick (reference at end).

The paper looks at how to enhance feedback practices to support students’ self-regulation. Authors argue that formative assessment and feedback should be used to foster students to become self-regulated learners. This blog post contains some notes and excerpts from the pages 199-205.


Formative assessment: assessment that is specifically intended to generate feedback on performance to improve and accelerate learning (Sadler, 1998 in Nichol & MacFarlane-Dick p.199).

Self-regulation refers to “the degree to which students can regulate aspects of their thinking, motivation and behaviour during learning” (Pintrich & Zusho, 2002 cited in Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p.199).  (p.205 contains a good summary of research on SRL)

Self-regulated learning “is an active constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behaviour, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features of the environment” (Pintrich and Zusho, 2002, p. 64 cited in Nichol & MacFarlane-Dick, p.202)

Student-centred learning: the core assumptions are active engagement in learning and learner responsibility for the management of learning (Lea et al., 2003 in Nichol & MacFarlane-Dick p.200).

The problem

In higher education, formative assessment and feedback are still largely controlled by and seen as the responsibility of instructors (instructors ‘transmit’ feedback messages to students about what is right and wrong in their academic work, about its strengths and weaknesses, and students use this information to make subsequent improvements) (p.200)

This is problematic because:

  • impedes self-regulation
  • assumes students understand the instructor’s feedback
  • ignores how feedback interacts with motivations and beliefs
  • increases instructor workload

Feedback and learning

There is considerable research that shows that effective feedback leads to learning gains.

Sadler (1989) identified three conditions needed for students to benefit from feedback in academic tasks. Students need to know:
1. What good performance is (i.e. the student needs to understand the goal or standard being aimed for);
2. How current performance relates to good performance (for this, the student must be able to compare current and good performance);
3. How to act to close the gap between current and good performance.

For students to do above, they have to possess their OWN evaluative abilities; they cannot solely rely on ‘outside’ source.  Consequently, we need to help students with SELF-ASSESSMENT skills.

Feedback and learning: The model

Nichol and MacFarlane-Dick present a model of self-regulated learning and the feedback principles that support and develop self-regulation in students. To see a larger version of this model, click on the above image. This image is from the author’s paper available here.

Good feedback practices: 7 principles

In this paper, good feedback practice is defined as anything that might strengthen the students’ capacity to self-regulate their own performance.

Good feedback practice (p.205):
1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning;
3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;
6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching.



Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218.
For a freely accessible version of the paper, see here.