The University Record, October 1, 1996

CRLT forms can help teachers

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

What goes around comes around. At term's end, U-M students, who receive grades in their courses, can, in turn, grade their instructors by filling out teaching evaluations.

This term students will do it with updated questionnaires, developed by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), that reflect the heightened emphasis at U-M on good teaching.

"Last year, students in about 11,000 classes filled out CRLT's teaching questionnaires," according to James A. Kulik, director of CRLT's Office of Evaluations and Examinations. The trend is clearly up. In 1976, about 1,000 classes used CRLT's questionnaires; in 1986, about 7,000 classes used them.

Teachers use the evaluation results to improve their teaching, and department and college committees take the results into account when they decide who gets tenure, who gets a promotion and who gets merit pay.

"Student evaluations play an increasingly important role in one's teaching career, so it is vital that the questionnaires be relevant to the specific course and helpful to instructors as they work on enhancing their teaching," according to CRLT Director Constance E. Cook.

With that need in mind, CRLT undertook a major revision of the student ratings system last year. Following a review of research on student ratings, CRLT staff solicited views on the student ratings system from the U-M community, examined rating s ystems used at other universities; and arranged meetings with executive committees, curriculum committees, and department chairs to formulate a plan for revising the U-M rating system. The results include an augmented catalog of questions, redesigned stu dent questionnaires and instructor reports, and new procedures for ordering the questionnaires.

Teachers or departments can include up to 30 questions on each questionnaire, selected from a list of about 200 potential questions. CRLT edits the selected questions so that they refer to instructors by their roles (professor, lab instructor, et c.) and classes by their type (lecture, discussion section, lab, etc.). CRLT then prints the edited questions on questionnaires and instructor reports.

"During the summer's revision process, we met with students from major campus organizations who said that they wanted questionnaires to indicate very clearly who and what was being evaluated and why the evaluation was being done," Cook e xplains.

The students also urged that "NA" (not applicable) be included as a possible response for all questions. "This helps eliminate ambiguities in interpretation of results in cases where an irrelevant item appears on a questionnaire," Kulik says.

A group of four "University-wide questions" (e.g., "Overall, this is an excellent course") appears on all questionnaires. Teachers and departments choose up to 26 additional questions. Among the questions is a student course- guide set, the results of which are printed in Advice, the guide to University courses published by the Michigan Student Assembly.

Other questions explore the instructional climate, the instructor's communication skills, or the quality of the writing assignments and the exams.

New groups of questions cover diversity issues and use of teaching technology. In addition, departments and teachers can now include up to five open-ended questions on their questionnaires.

Cook urges academic units that use core questions for their instructors to review their current evaluation forms and contact CRLT if it appears that they need to be updated. "Some departments' questionnaires were designed some 15-20 years ag o and need re-examination," she adds.

"A recent national survey reported that 86 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations in their personnel decisions---a substantial jump from the 29 percent that reported using them in a 1976 survey," Kulik note s. "So it is very important to your faculty and GSIs that the evaluations be well-designed and useful."

For more information, call Kulik at 936-0636 or send e-mail to to Orders for new teaching questionnaires should be in by Oct. 31.

Oops. Your student evaluations . . .

. . . just arrived in campus mail and you don't know how to interpret them.

Your options are:
A. Talk with a colleague about your teaching.
B. Read articles on good teaching in your discipline.
C. Seek practical help from CRLT.
D. All of the above.

"All of the above" is the correct answer, says Constance E. Cook, CRLT director .

"There are lots of ways to improve teaching. There are very few `born teachers.' Teaching is a learned set of skills and virtually everyone can improve."

CRLT offers a set of highly practical services for teachers who want to upgrade their skills. They include:


One-on-one confidential sessions with CRLT consultants who can help faculty and graduate student instructors (GSIs) interpret their student ratings, and also discuss communication skills, classroom climate improvement, and so on.


Early Student Feedback services, in which a CRLT staff member conducts focus groups with your students half way through the semester and then gives you confidential feedback.


A range of scheduled workshops for faculty and GSIs on teaching larger classes, interactive learning, syllabus and test design, use of new media, etc.


Videotaping your class in action. "There is nothing like seeing yourself in action to help you identify ways to improve," Cook observes.


The most current research on teaching techniques is available to faculty and GSIs in CRLT's research library in the School of Education.

To make an appointment with a CRLT consultant, call 764-0505 or drop in noon-2 p.m. Tuesdays and 2-4 p.m. Fridays.