The course evaluations a new instructor receives in late December, after the first quarter of teaching are often surprising: favorable, mediocre, or just downright lousy. Because of the nature of the forms used for course evaluations at the UW (see sample form below), this feedback is best thought of as only a partial gauge of your effectiveness as a teacher. Any one-to-one relationship between teaching ability and feedback on the course evaluations is probably unsafe to make; still, there are things you can learn from these course evaluations.

While we would all like to receive “good” evaluations, the frustration instructors often feel as a result of “bad” evaluations is not necessarily a product of criticism, but of criticism that results from miscommunication. Monitoring the classroom, giving explicit explanations for course content, and establishing an accessible and respected presence in the classroom are all methods through which you can “manage” your evaluations. It is also helpful to remember that your course evaluations are only one of the assessment tools you have for your own pedagogy. While the official forms serve a role, you can build your course to have other modes of feedback so that you are getting the information you need to develop as a teacher.

Current Policies on Evaluations

The PWR Director meets with every new instructor to discuss, help read and interpret, and troubleshoot course evaluations in year one of teaching in the program. This meeting typically takes place in Winter quarter. These meetings are intended to help you understand the UW evaluation system but also to help you think through what you want to improve for your own professional development.

After the first year of PWR instruction, you are encouraged to still administer course evaluations each quarter but English department ASEs/pre-doctoral instructors are only required to submit one course evaluation for the academic year. While it is important for your own teaching records to do some form of pedagogical assessment each quarter, this policy is intended to relieve some of the unequal burdens and stresses that official evaluations create.

If you ever have concerns about your evaluations (e.g., you feel you are being unfairly targeted due to your identity or politics or teaching style, you are consistently receiving feedback that is lower or more negative than you desire, you need help processing or understanding feedback) please reach out to the PWR Director for support. Your evaluations are not used to make other decisions about your funding or your status in your program—seeking help regarding your evaluations is the PWR’s chance to assist you instead of having you be alone with these student comments.


Your evaluations are ordered through a university-wide online system. While we are primarily talking about this official process in this section, this is not the only opportunity to ask your students for feedback on your course. Ideally, you will conduct some level of assessment throughout the quarter so your students have a chance to let you know what they need while the class is in progress. Particularly if you are having a lot of tough teaching days, you will want to ask your students for help in figuring out how to pivot so that class will be better for all of you.

Possible teaching assessment tools:

  •          Use the official mid-quarter evaluation form.
  •          Anonymous google form questionnaire.
  •          Asking students to rate which readings they’ve liked best.
  •          Creating a writer’s note assignment in which students evaluate what skill lessons have clicked for them and which have not.
  •          Simply asking during conferencing. Remember you can also move up the timing of conferences if you feel you need to check-in with your students sooner rather than later.
  •          During class, have students write down questions they have about how the class will go for the remainder of the term.
  •          Creative check-ins asking students how they are feeling by posting memes, making drawing doodles, or other non-writing based ways of communicating.

These are just some of the many possible ways of getting information back from your students before the end of term. While the PWR director and ADs are always happy to talk you through pedagogical choices, your students are the ones who are in class with you every time; they are your strongest resources for noticing what is going on within your class and what you might change.

Ways to Manage Evaluations

Regardless of what other self-assessment methods you implement for your teaching, you will need to order your official course evaluations before the end of each quarter.

Some tips for success with evaluation system:

Request the forms early. The course evaluation forms can take a few days to become available. You will want to order these early on and decide how to schedule the window for students to take them. This scheduling has official limitations as there are university policies regarding

Get to know the forms. Instructors have found it useful to utilize the language of the forms in their spoken and written instruction. For example, the forms ask students if they have had, for example, “the opportunity for practicing what was learned”—something that you could both build into your class and make clear to students when they’re doing it.

When to distribute forms. You’ll want to think about the best time to distribute course evaluations in your class. They are usually conducted some time in the final two weeks, and it is important to give students plenty of time to complete the evaluations. Some instructors have found it useful to:

  • have conferences close to the time when the evaluations are done, as conferences emphasize individual progress and your contribution to that progress as an instructor.
  • keep the evaluation day away from major due dates, as stress can lead to overly negative reactions on the forms.
  • make it very clear to students when they’ll be doing evaluations, and how important they are to you.
  • have students fill out evaluations during class time. While online evaluations can be completed at home, trial runs have demonstrated that response rates are much higher when students are given time to respond in class rather than finding time to do so at home (even with constant reminders and clear instructions).
  • conduct evaluations early in the class period, giving students at least 20 minutes to fill them out; this keeps them from rushing through and leaving early.

How to Order Official Evaluations

Order your online evaluations at the following link:


On page one, choose “ENGL – English” under “Course Abbreviation” and “Online” under “Evaluation Delivery”

On page two, find your name and section under “Course-Instructor.”

Course Type: Face-to-Face, Hybrid, or Online

Form Type: We typically choose the E form: for small classes for PWR but you are welcome to review the form questions here and choose the form you feel most appropriate.

Budget: 06-0430

Open date and close date: We recommend opening during the last week of class and discussing the evaluations with students. If you express to students that you value and seek their feedback, they are more likely to respond. We suggest you reserve class time (10-15 minutes), inform students of the date, and ask them to bring technology. This increases response rate. You might send one reminder email after class ends encouraging students to complete the evaluation. Read more below.

The system automatically provides all registered students with an email link to complete the evaluations (and reminders to complete). Students require no special training for completing the evaluations. Each student has a unique link that can only be completed once.

Adding Questions (Yours and Ours): We ask that you consider adding some additional questions we’ve provided that will help you better assess your teaching. You are welcome to adjust or add a few of your own, as well. The questions can be found in the following link along with directions:  http://blogs.uw.edu/englcic/2014/12/01/iasystem-online-course-evaluations/

Access Your Evaluations: You will be able to access all of your online evaluations at the following link in PDF form. We recommend downloading a personal copy of the PDFs for future use before you leave UW: https://uw.iasystem.org/faculty

On the Fairness of Evaluations and Explaining Evaluations to Your Students

Unless you explain it to them, most students will not understand what course evaluations are used for, who reads them, and the consequences of their responses. It is easy to be at a university for many years without being given any context for official course evaluations. You may want to:

  • Tell students these forms are read. Instructors have feelings too. Just because these forms are anonymous is not an excuse to give unconstructive criticism.
  • Tell students who reads the forms. Responses to both forms go to you and the department. Depending on the department, there may be consequences for instructor employment if students give low ratings just because they can.
  • Emphasize the importance of the forms to you, explaining that they become part of your teaching records and that you use them to improve your teaching.
  • Inform students about how the grading scale found on the evaluation forms functions. While some students may perceive an “Excellent” rating as similar to a “Very Good” rating, giving students a sense of how the mean rating for instructors in very high helps you emphasize how evaluation ratings have undergone the same sort of inflation as internet ratings.
  • Encourage students to spend time on the write-in responses, as that feedback is usually the most revealing and helpful for you.

Bias in Evaluations 

You may also want to directly address the fact that almost every study of course evaluations discovers that student’s put their implicit biases into their evaluations. Your positionality in the classroom is reflected in your evaluations. It is disappointing to see that biases around gender, race, sexuality, disability, and every other element of self affect your evaluations. You may receive intolerant comments about these aspects of yourself. Knowing that you will not be alone in these experiences is insufficient consolation for feeling the violence of anonymous attack. If you are concerned about this, please talk to the PWR Director, ADs and other staff for strategies in navigating the process.

Reading & Interpreting Your Evaluations

By the time the evaluations come back to you, it may be tempting to access your evaluations and read them immediately. Because the evaluations are sometimes hard to get meaningful data out of, and because evaluations are often not what instructors expect, it is a good idea to designate a specific time (when you’re ready!) to read your course evaluations. Remember that even the best instructors receive comments that sting. Be very deliberate about when and how to read these evaluations.

According to former PWR Director and Professor Candice Rai:

PWR aggregates the average for all instructors as a group of the first four questions as a general data on how the program on the whole is rated. Instructor averages for first year teachers in fall is typically around 3.5-3.8, depending on the quarter, and around 4.2 for the whole staff. This should be considered outstanding for this type of course. Expect your numbers to go up and down. This is all ok.


New instructors often expect higher marks than they receive, and it is important to have reasonable expectations and be in a “good place” (both physically and mentally) when you read the evaluations. Truth be told, it will likely take a few quarters for your evaluations to be acceptable to you. Reading through your evaluations, no matter how good or how bad, the trick is to identify one or two themes in the evaluations that you can work on in your teaching.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is a fantastic place for insights and tools to be used by instructors in their classrooms. The CTL also has a series of useful tips for when you finally receive your student evaluations and how to interpret them. Below are some questions that the CTL recommends you ask yourself as you look over student evaluations:

Questions for identifying patterns and themes in data:

What patterns, if any, are indicated in numerical ratings? Ratings for some items may help to make sense of ratings for others.

What patterns or strong themes are indicated in qualitative comments? Themes in qualitative comments can be quantified to demonstrate the degree of student consensus on particular aspects of the course.

Are there patterns across sources of data? Quantitative ratings may reflect points raised in students’ open-ended comments or vice versa. Both sets of data may inform an instructor’s own self-assessment, a peer review, or other forms of data.

Questions for contextualizing student data:

What is the teaching context? Take into account course characteristics such as size of the course, whether an instructor is co-teaching, and whether the instructor supervises TAs. How do these ratings compare to: The instructor’s other courses; ratings for courses with similar sizes, levels, or content; or other courses with similar backgrounds and preparation?

What changes have occurred over time? What has improved?

What ratings stand out to the instructor and why? Instructors have the most context for the course, including their aims in teaching. What ratings do instructors find most useful for their own self-assessment in both strengths and areas for growth, and why?

What information is available to help clarify specific issues? Qualitative data, particularly, may help provide a more nuanced understanding of the course context or a particular issue raised in other data under review.

What information may help reconcile divergent ratings? Qualitative data may also help review and promotion committees interpret divergent student ratings–for example, when instructors receive very high and very low rankings from different groups of students in the same course, or across multiple quarters of teaching the same course.

Student evaluations carry with them a variety of influencing factors, including students’ reasons for enrolling in the course, day-to-day experiences, conscious and unconscious beliefs and expectations and the list goes on. Keeping these factors in mind while reading evaluations can help you better understand how to read evaluations.


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2023 English 131 Instructors Manual Copyright © 2022 by kersch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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