Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

Evaluating Lectures

How do you know you–or, better, your students–achieved the learning objectives for the day?

This section approaches lecture evaluation from three directions. First, it offers tips on eliciting feedback from your students to ensure that they are learning what you think they're learning every day. Second, it suggests ways to evaluate your own work, a strategy that requires critical reflection. Third, it encourages you to seek assessment from your colleagues to help refresh your lecture presentation skills and teaching practices. By taking time to review what went well and what could have been better, you can design stronger, more focused and successful lectures.

Student Feedback

The following are ways to elicit student feedback that will produce more reliable results and help you ensure that everyone understands the day's objectives before moving to the next lecture.

One-minute note card

In the final few minutes of class, ask everyone to write down the following information on a note card:

  • One topic, concept, idea, or lesson that they understand clearly from the day's lecture.
  • One question that they still have about the lecture.

If feasible given the number of students in your course, review the cards yourself. Otherwise, divide the cards among the teaching assistants working with you, and ask them to email the results to you.

Knowing the clearest points and students' lingering questions gives you a place to begin your next lecture by summarizing what people overwhelmingly understood and what they haven't grasped yet. Furthermore, reviewing the cards helps you discern patterns in your lecture presentation over the course of the term. For instance, do students typically have questions about material you cover at the beginning, middle, or end of your lecture? Do they more clearly understand topics that you incorporate into active learning exercises?

Use the one-minute note card to review material as appropriate and to improve your own lecture design along the way.

Note: This exercise can but does not have to be anonymous. In fact, you can get to know your students better if they submit cards with their names on them daily or weekly. You can also save time conducting this exercise by asking students at the beginning of the term to bring note cards to every class. Or, you can leave stacks of them near classroom doors. If you use the cards in every session or every week, students will soon fall into the habit of picking them up or bringing them to class.

Open notebook quiz

Reserve time at the end of some lectures to hold an unannounced open notebook quiz. Post 3-5 questions pertaining to the day's topics.

Design a range of questions that ask students for facts and definitions as well as require critical thinking about those facts. For instance, you might ask, "What objects are in Manley Pointer's Bible in Flannery O'Connor's short story, ?Good Country People'?" as a fact-based question, then follow it up with, "What do these items (and the Bible itself) communicate about Pointer's character?" to test critical thinking skills.

This exercise emphasizes the importance of note taking during lectures and gives students a glimpse of the material you consider most important in the day's lesson. You may choose to grade all or some of these quizzes. Grading none of them, however, might result in low effort on some students' parts.

Periodic surveys

Elicit evaluation of course lectures (content and delivery), readings, assignments, and classroom climate in a detailed (8-12 question) survey. You can administer surveys monthly and/or at midterm, revising questions based on the feedback you seek. Since this survey asks for opinion of course content and delivery rather than simply questions to test students' understanding of the content, it should be completed anonymously.

After you download this sample mid-term survey (pdf), revise and edit it to meet your needs more directly.

Self-Evaluation

In addition to requesting and reviewing feedback from your students, you should articulate your own reactions to your work.

Reflection

Take a few minutes after each lecture to jot down your own thoughts about what went well and what did not. Did you lose track of time at some point? Did you feel you lost (or impressed!) your audience along the way? Did you cover everything in your plan for the day?

After you note your reactions, compare them to those offered by your students.

Are there clear points of intersection? If so, you know what part(s) of your future lectures need more or less attention.

Does your reflection diverge widely from your students' comments on the same lecture? If so, then you know you have some work to do. You need to theorize or ascertain why the very points of your lecture that feel strong to you go unnoticed by your students. Do you and your students have different goals for the outcome of the lecture? Are you assuming that they understand the parts of your presentation that feel strongest or most effective to you? Why didn't you notice the sections that students identified as less effective for them?

Research

A great way to improve on your lectures is to review recent pedagogical literature on designing and delivering lectures. That you have turned to this online workshop is a step in the right direction. Maintain your momentum by reviewing other scholarship, as well.

External Assessment

Your colleagues can offer useful feedback on your lectures, as well, to help you improve on their strengths and shore up their weaknesses. Of course, the best way for colleagues to comment on your work is for them to attend your lecture. Seek out some of the following people for assistance:

TAs

If you have teaching assistants working with you in the course, meet with them regularly (even for five minutes after each class) to ask for their thoughts on your lecture.

TAs are in a unique position to provide feedback from the dual position of student (of your teaching methods) and teacher (of course content in discussion sections or as graders available to students during office hours). Take advantage of these important perspectives by seeking their feedback.

Note: TAs can feel vulnerable critiquing their professors, so be sure to make clear to them that you are genuinely interested in their evaluation of your teaching. A great way to demonstrate that interest is to put some of their best suggestions into practice, as you would with any feedback you receive.

In fact, including TAs in your evaluation and improvement of your own teaching is an excellent professional development tool for them. You can model for TAs how to reflect on and improve teaching practice, thereby instilling in them respect for the work of teaching alongside their scholarly research.

Colleagues in your department

Ask someone who has had experience teaching lecture courses (either yours or others) to observe your class. Arrange to meet with this person for 10-15 minutes on the day or morning before the lecture to specify what aspects in particular you would like the observer to review:

  • Your use of visuals?
  • Time management?
  • Tone and projection of your voice and your movement around the room?
  • Manner of engaging students in exercises or discussion?

The more details you provide for your reviewer, the more focused and useful that observation will be. Ideally, you would give your classroom visitor an observation worksheet (pdf) to help organize his or her ideas and reactions that emerge during your lecture. After you download the worksheet, revise and edit it to meet your needs more directly.

Consultant

Request a consultation, or even (if possible) a videotaping of your lecture. Watching your own performance gives you a much clearer view of your content presentation and delivery skills. To find out whether your institution has a teaching and learning center, ask your colleagues and contact your school's human resources office.

After you elicit student, peer, and professional feedback about your lecture, plan to put some of that advice into action. Check out our Resources list to find exactly the help you need to transform your good (or not-so-good!) lectures into great lectures.

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