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Student evaluation surveys

Why use student evaluation surveys?

As educators, we need to know our students so that we can best design a curriculum that scaffolds and develops their learning. We already considered the idea of multiple sources of feeedback and the fact that, relying on one perspective (for example the reflective lens of the educator) may not provide us with a full or holistic understanding of the student experience.

Educators were taken by surprise with the results of research by Arum and Roksa. In their book, Academically Adrift, (2011) the authors found that almost half of American students demonstrate no significant improvement in higher order cognitive skills such as critical thinking during their first two years at college. The surprising results of this research suggests that educators did not have a full understanding of their students’ learning.

A very common way to make sense of student experience is through the use of student surveys. Numerous studies have shown that feedback based on students’ actual experiences of a course and the teaching can provide valuable insights into the perceived effectiveness of their learning and teaching environment. To improve our teaching, and for students to have a good learning experience, the most useful way to think of student evaluation surveys is not as an administrative necessity, but as an opportunity for critical reflection and for engaging in productive dialogue with students and peers.

What is contained in student evaluation of teaching?

Students are asked to indicate their satisfaction with aspects of courses and teaching that have been shown by numerous research studies to create an environment that is conducive to student learning.

These aspects may include:

  • effective communication—the clarity with which ideas, concepts, goals and expectations (including those relating to assessment) are explained and communicated to students
  • the capacity to stimulate students’ interest in a subject and to foster a desire and willingness to learn
  • encouragement of student participation and cooperative learning
  • the capacity to facilitate understanding and the development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
  • encouragement of independent learning
  • provision of high-quality feedback to students (UNSW, 2016).

Student survey data are an example of an evaluative data source which represents Stage 2 of the simplified 3 stage integrated teaching development framework (Vigentini, Negin & Kligyte, 2016) and an example of the lens of the student as per Brookfield’s (1995) four lenses.

Student survey data are an example of an evaluative data source which represents Stage 2 of the simplified 3 stage integrated teaching development framework (Vigentini, Negin & Kligyte, 2016). Choose interpretational lenses, perspectives and data sources. (Vigentini, Negin & Kligyte, 2016; Pardo & Mirriahi, 2017) Adapted with permission

Talking point

Name one type of student survey you have either used or you know.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on student evaluation surveys there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.


Arum, R. & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically Adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Radloff, A. & Coates, H. (2009). Doing more for learning: Enhancing engagement and outcomes: Australasian Survey of Student Engagement Australasian Student Engagement Report. Camberwell: ACER.

SES. (2016). 2015 Student Experience Survey National Report. February 2016.

UNSW (2019). Understanding UNSW Student Surveys Sydney: Author.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Enhancing Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney