Eliciting summative feedback from students

Summative evaluation refers to evaluation of course components and/or teaching by students at the end of a course. While some instructors may be obligated to use course evaluations developed by their departments, others develop their own or use their own in conjunction with course or institutional evaluations. No matter what the case, the information gained can be helpful in improving teaching and course design.

Here are some things to consider when developing summative evaluation/feedback forms:

  • Some evaluation forms take a global approach by asking very broad questions. For example: “How do you rate this course as a learning experience?
    -This type of question is too general and does not provide evaluation /feedback on   specific aspects of teaching or course design.
  • Some forms use competitive type questions. For example: On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being poor and 10 being excellent, rate this course compared to other university courses you are taking at the same level.
    -One problem with this type of question is that students may not be capable of comparing    courses in different disciplines taught using different strategies. Sticking to specifics (amount of time spent reading, completing assignments etc.) will eliminate asking students to make general comparisons based only on opinion.
  • To get the most out of summative evaluation/feedback, questions or statements should elicit not only information regarding overall (global) ratings of the course and how it is taught, but specific aspects of course design and delivery (e.g. clearly stated goals and objectives/outcomes, information regarding the text and required reading, grading procedures, assignments and projects, teaching strategies, instructor interaction with students, instructor availability etc.) and seek suggestions for improvement from students. Make a list of specific things you want to know from students about your teaching and course design and then develop questions/items to elicit that information.
    -This type of information is more useful than global feedback as it will provide reasons for global ratings and assist instructors in improving course design and delivery in areas where students indicate dissatisfaction, or validate the instructor’s current design and delivery choices. 
  • State each item to be evaluated in a clear manner. For example, asking students to rate an instructor based on the following statement will not provide useful information: “The instructor is well prepared.” This statement can be interpreted to mean any number of things (he/she shows up in time for class, has good knowledge of the material, presents content in a way that is organized and easy to understand, has the assignments graded on time etc.) and does not really provide useful information.



Felder, R. (Winter 1993). What do they know anyway: Making evaluations effective. Chemical Engineering Education, 27(1), 28-29.

Gross Davis, B. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nuhfer, E. (2003). Of what value are student evaluations? Center for teaching and learning, Idaho State University. Retrieved March 9, 2006 from http://www.isu.edu/ctl/