Fall course evaluations mirror past semesters, despite challenges


Student evaluations of their 2020 fall term courses and instructors remained consistent with past semesters, despite the many challenges to teaching and learning posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An analysis of course evaluations that showed stable — and, in some cases, even higher — average scores in certain areas is a positive signal that students continued to value their academic experiences, even as most courses moved to a remote or hybrid format, said Susan M. Collins, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“What this tells me is that our instructors rose to the challenges of teaching during this unique time, and continued to offer content that is well-presented, interesting and moving our students closer to their academic goals,” Collins said.

“It has been a difficult past year for our students and our instructors, and I hope these results emphasize what we’ve known for so long — a University of Michigan education is special, and our instructors are very much appreciated.”

An ad hoc group of faculty and staff tasked with reviewing end-of-term evaluation protocols recommended that academic units use the results for teaching-personnel considerations “with appropriate care and context,” considering the extra demands that both students and faculty faced due to the pandemic. 

The group also added three questions for the fall 2020 semester intended to capture information about the switch to remote instruction.

School of Social Work Dean Lynn Videka, who chaired the ad hoc group, said the pandemic-specific questions have helped academic units and faculty better understand what is working.

Videka’s school moved away from asynchronous online formats after course evaluations for the winter 2020 semester revealed how difficult it was for students to have no live interactions with faculty and peers.

“This has helped faculty to improve their pedagogy from one semester to the next,” she said.

In addition to the pandemic-related questions, the fall evaluations asked students to respond to standard statements, such as “The instructor seemed well prepared for class meetings” by choosing a rating on a five-point Likert scale.

Students’ responses, on average, differed slightly from one mode of instruction — in-person, remote or hybrid — to another. Results of the evaluations included:

  • For the statement, “This course advanced my understanding of the subject matter,” the average student rating was 4.6, a slight improvement over the 4.5 average calculated in each of the prior three winter and fall semesters.
  • Students in remote classes were slightly more likely to indicate their workload was heavier than for similar courses they have taken, with 31 percent responding so, compared with 28 percent taking a class in person and 26 percent in a hybrid course.
  • Students who took an in-person class were slightly more likely to feel that the instructor explained material clearly than students in hybrid or remote classes.

In addition to questions regarding course and teacher evaluations, the data show that 65.3 percent of students said they attended most classes synchronously, while 28.3 percent said they attend most sessions asynchronously.

Another 6 percent reported they attended some of the class in person and some online, and 2.2 percent reported they attended most sessions in person.


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