Presenting and Teaching

Making Sense of Course Feedback

30 Jun 2023  

One of the most unpleasant parts of teaching is reviewing the course feedback. Most instructors try to create a great class; I certainly do. So, reviewing the student evaluations is a stressful moment. Even when most of the comments are positive, the feedback from disappointed students can be painful.

The Importance of Feedback

Teaching is customer service. Students sign up to take a class and want to have a positive experience. They want to walk away feeling like it was time well spent and that they learned something useful.

As a result, the student feedback is important. It is a measure of success and, more important, a road map for improving.

I’ve been teaching at Kellogg for over twenty years. The only way I manage to keep engaging students is to constantly learn, revise and update.


The most difficult part of processing student feedback is figuring out the right balance. A particularly pointed student comment can really sting. But determining what to do with that comment is more challenging. Is this a theme that needs attention? Or is this just one unhappy individual, perhaps someone having a bad day or someone who had unique views?

In most cases I look for three things.

-General themes: If there are several comments on the same topic, then it starts to look like a theme. It isn’t just one unhappy individual.

-Connection: Comments sometimes connect with my own observations. If I was uncomfortable with something, and then I see that appear in the comments, it starts to validate my hypothesis. A change seems necessary.

-Passion: Sometime a student will have a particularly strong point of view. Perhaps they really hated the course. This spring, I had a student score my class a 1 on the 1 to 6 scale. It can’t get any worse. That individual was clearly annoyed. While most people were happy, I still want to think about what created that level of unhappiness and how I can address it.

My Spring Feedback

I wasn’t thrilled with my feedback. In terms of instructor, I received a 5.2 out of 6, better than average for Kellogg, and for the course I received 4.9 out of 6.

Now these are pretty good scores, and I was a finalist for Professor of the Year, so overall things are fine. But I’m not satisfied with the scores and want to do better.

Here are some things I will change.

–Individual assignments: In this course, each student had to do two individual assignments. I’ve always liked these because every student has to deliver. But the assignments don’t create happiness. Some students didn’t like the grading (I had a TA help me evaluate the more than 130 submissions) and some thought the criteria wasn’t clear.

So, I’m thinking of moving to group assignments instead. This shift will allow me to give more robust feedback on each submission. I’ll also provide more guidance on the criteria and what great looks like.

–Time management: My spring class was pretty engaged and enthusiastic. The result was that one class would often run into the next one, and I would bridge a case discussion between two class sessions.

While I thought this was exciting and dynamic, many students didn’t like it. So, I’m going back to rework the flow. I will split one class into two sessions, for example, instead of rushing to fit all the material into one.

–Expectations: The most annoyed student was someone who really knew healthcare. I believe they had worked in the industry previously and had taken several healthcare classes at Kellogg. They were really hacked off that I spent time on industry background.

Now, most students in my class aren’t healthcare experts; I welcome students who are interested in marketing but newer to the industry, so the background is important.

My takeaway: I should really encourage people who consider themselves to be experts in healthcare marketing not to take the class. The other option, making it an advanced class just for students with a deep expertise in healthcare, wouldn’t work. The problem is that there would probably be four students in total and the class would be cancelled.

Better to be clear that the course is designed for people new to healthcare or at least new to healthcare marketing.

Looking Ahead

The fun part about teaching is that it is never easy. I’ve taught for many years and even now I’m finding ways to improve my class. Ultimately, that is how we get better and stay relevant in the classroom.

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