What is your belief about the end of course evaluation? Do you believe it accurately reflects your performance in the classroom? Do you live in fear of the outcome you'll receive, as to your standing with the school you teach for now? Do you focus on the potential outcome of the evaluation, and do everything you can to ensure your learners are satisfied with the course, even if it means becoming more lenient than you might naturally be?

Those of us teaching for online schools know the weight these evaluations hold for determination of the future of our positions. The online school I work for takes these evaluations very seriously, and yet, there is a holistic view taken and that means all factors of performance are weighed in. The reason why is there are typically only a few learners who will respond to these evaluations, and those who do, are the ones who are either extremely satisfied with the course or are unhappy for any number of reasons. In other words, the reason why a learner responds will be emotional in nature. But not all online schools approach the evaluation in this manner. Many have a minimum score to attain with no other factors taken into consideration. If the score is not attained, your position may become in jeopardy.

This evaluation can be a learning experience for the instructor, whether or not the score received was expected. For learners who were highly satisfied, I look for specific reasons why and seek to enhance those aspects in the next course. The converse is also true for learners who may be unsatisfied, which is often related to the nature of the course design. For example, if there are unclear assignment instructions, I'll see if I can request an update within the course. In the meantime, I'll develop supplemental instructions. I also understand the fear that is associated with this evaluation among instructors and not meeting the required minimum score, as it seems to be out of your direct control. Yet there are strategies that are within your control you can take to improve learner satisfaction during the course.

The Basics of Learner Satisfaction

When you are looking at a rating scale, the numbers itself can be challenging to understand. For example, if your school requires you to maintain a 4.4 out of a 5.0 as an average, you may not fully understand what a 4.4 means in terms of learner satisfaction. Is there a significant difference between a learner who is satisfied at a rate of 4.0 by the end of the term, versus a learner who you know is highly satisfied at 4.8, 4.9, or 5.0? If so, to what extent is the significance? Perhaps it would be of greater benefit to consider the relationship you are developing with your learners.

Consider this: Every learner is likely to feel some level of satisfaction if they are valued and appreciated. That would be a helpful perspective and disposition to start your class. Now as to how that translates into their expectations and outcomes is another perspective. But to begin, this is a basic starting point for learner satisfaction and how they are likely to begin the class. If you can start the class with this frame of reference and encourage them with this as your intended disposition, you are starting with a positive level of satisfaction. Now the question becomes: How to sustain this disposition, both for you and your learners, throughout the entire class.

The Challenges Associated with Learning

As those of who teach online know quite well, our classes are filled with learners who have a wide variety of learning styles, persistent rates, capacities, capabilities, and academic skills. When they interact with the materials provided, and attempt to complete what is required of them each week, this occurs without someone physically present to guide them. Whether or not they are able to learn and complete the required activities is going to depend upon their ability to master the concepts, acquire new skills, and develop coherent thoughts into discussion posts and written assignments.

Many learners can do this with minimal assistance needed, and others will struggle to overcome mental, emotional, and other related learning challenges. They may reach out to you for assistance in a positive manner, and often, in an aggressive manner via messaging and email. I've witnessed an increase in unprofessional communication over the past few years, with learners hiding behind anonymity, believing classroom communication to be no different than that of social media or text messaging. It is not uncommon for learners to find themselves not only frustrated, but highly frustrated and the escalation occurs quickly, despite the availability of assistance. This is where the balance of maintaining their satisfaction becomes the most challenging, when they believe they cannot learn and it is all because everything was designed to work against them.

This is also related to the level of the learner's involvement in the classroom. They may choose to be engaged for only the minimum required, or become highly engaged. They may elect to read and implement the feedback provided each week, or disregard it and continue to struggle. As an instructor, I can continue to coach, guide, nudge, and help them along, but those efforts can ultimately frustrate the learner, especially if they notice their grade is not improving. Then their level of satisfaction may go down as they now believe it is "my fault" because I am reducing their grade. In other words, if I am not passing students along, and grading them according to their actual performance, they are likely to express their frustration at the end of the term.  

Seeking to Make an Improvement in Learner Satisfaction

If you have a large class size, it can become quite challenging to determine if your learners are fully satisfied each week, at the 5.0 level. You could examine the gradebook and assess satisfaction from the perspective of who is earning the highest grade, and yet, many learners at the top of the scale could still be unhappy. This is where a strategic plan is needed for your instructional practice. There is one approach I use and it is a weekly Course Announcement. I create a PowerPoint lecture and record it with both myself and the PowerPoint deck visible during the recording. The reason why I believe this is effective, and related to learner satisfaction, is that I'm reviewing course concepts, sharing examples, and I'm reviewing all of the learning activities for the week in detail. In other words, I'm fully preparing learners for the week ahead, and removing the likelihood of confusion about requirements. Does it always work? Not necessarily, as there are learners who still will not utilize resources provided; however, most learners will take advantage of these resources.

There is another approach and it is self-reflection, which I began to discuss at the beginning of this post. I take the evaluations received and develop my own form of self-development plan. What I'm focused on is the development of a learner-centered environment. I cannot control the 5.0 score directly, but indirectly I can influence the environment learners are in and as a result, the score will naturally adjust. As I noted, I will consider where learners are struggling, both from the evaluations and during the course, and I'll address those areas with the weekly Course Announcement and even a mid-week Course Announcement. I'm continually reflecting upon the feedback I provide and determining if I am meeting the needs of learners, as this ties directly into their academic growth, and perhaps their satisfaction of the course.

I know it is possible there will be negative statements made by learners on the evaluations from time to time, and I usually know who those came from and why. I find myself not getting upset about it as I know why the learner or learners struggled, and often, how they resisted receiving the assistance needed to help them succeed and/or overcome the inherent challenges they were facing. It also helps me develop new methods of outreach to become even better with future learners. For example, I use weekly videos to reach out, assist, and inspire learners.

Do End of Course Evaluations Reflect Your Classroom Performance Accurately?

To answer the question posed in the title of this post, I believe the evaluations measure one aspect of your performance as an instructor. The end of course evaluations can show trends; however, these forms do not always provide an overall picture of the scope of the work completed in a classroom. Learners are not fully capable of evaluating how an instructor provides feedback or engages in class discussions. What learners can do is describe the emotions of what they experienced and how their instructors contributed (or did not contribute) to their overall learning. An emotional reaction speaks to the relationship established with you as the instructor.

If you have a school that is willing to conduct a holistic view of your performance, then you are fortunate to work for a school that supports its faculty like I do. You cannot and should not live in fear of these evaluations, but you should use them as a learning opportunity. Every instructor, myself included, can and should continue to grow. This is for the benefit of yourself and your learners. When your learners feel a sense of satisfaction about their engagement with you as their instructor, and it includes being valued and appreciated, it is usually a positive sign that indicates you have developed a strong and productive working relationship with them. This is what you should work towards with every class you teach, as it will help nurture your development and theirs.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. Presently Dr. J is a Core Faculty member for one of the premiere online universities, fulfilling his life's mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others.

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.

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