Bridging the gap between the student and teacher experiences

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

By Brandon Gillet

Teaching and course evaluations are happening this week on campus through the EvaluAction program, giving students the chance to voice their likes and dislikes about their professors’ teaching.

Toward the end of each session at uOttawa, students are asked to give their opinions on not only the quality of courses, but on their professor’s abilities as well, through a questionnaire and comment sheet that is distributed at the beginning of one class.

Teachers use the evaluations to better understand how to reach their students and improve their teaching or course delivery methods. Since 1977, the evaluations have been bridging the gap between the student and teacher experiences, helping professors like Pascal Lefebvre  develop the best methods to reach their students.

“Every year, I analyze the results of my course evaluations. I closely read the additional comments that students have taken the time to write, in particular,” says Lefebvre, professor at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences. “This way, I’ve been able to gradually adapt my teaching to the real learning needs of my students.”

In addition to spurring continuous improvements in teaching, the evaluations can also mean awards for excellence in teaching or promotion opportunities for professors. As well, though a rare occurrence, consistently negative evaluations can prevent a full-time professor from receiving tenure or a part-time professor from being re-hired.

“For professors, EvaluAction is a source of very relevant suggestions for improving teaching,” says Lefebvre. “Of course, it’s up to them whether or not to take the suggestions into account, but it’s to their advantage to do so!”

So how does the University ensure that students respond honestly? Complete anonymity, that’s how. Evaluations are anonymous and confidential. In addition, professors are not present during the evaluation — student monitors distribute and collect the questionnaires. They are then placed in sealed envelopes by the monitors and delivered directly to the faculty in question.

“When professors see their evaluation report, they see combined results,” Lefebvre say. “They have no way to find out who made the comments.”

The comments do allow professors to see their students’ honest opinions on their courses and teaching.

“EvaluAction has allowed me to better understand students’ own experience in my courses. For the most part, they offer constructive comments to improve my teaching,” says Lefebvre. “I think that now my courses are just right, and that’s thanks in part to my students’ feedback in recent years.”

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