Student evaluations are a mixed blessing but there are specific steps you can take to improve them:
- Conduct a midterm evaluation
- Solicit frequent feedback
- Make entrepreneurship relevant
- Sweeten the pot
- Engage, engage, engage
Asking students for feedback during the course allows them to have ownership of their experience, and allows you to make suggested changes, which generally leads to more positive evaluations at the end of the course!
Ask a colleague to run this class session while you stay out of the room – preferably a colleague not in your department so students feel more comfortable being transparent. Your colleague informs students all information is anonymous and confidential, and that only information that is unanimous will be communicated to you. Students discuss the following questions one by one:
- What is going well this semester?
- What isn’t going well this semester?
- What can the students do to improve their [the students’] experience?
- What can the instructor do to improve their [the students’] experience?
Your colleague summarizes the feedback for you, either verbally or written, including only the suggestions that students unanimously agree upon.
During the next class session, it is critical to discuss what you learned and how you will adjust the course based on the feedback.
The whole experience takes just 15 – 30 minutes and it demonstrates to students that their voice matters (like customers’ voices matter). The combination of you taking action on students’ recommendations, that your students will feel heard, and that they will likely never have experienced something like in another one of their classes makes this approach a reliable way to improve your evaluations.
You can also seek feedback from students more frequently than mid-semester. Every few weeks, incorporate a quick evaluation to take students’ pulse. Assign a five-question evaluation assignment in your LMS, or hand out and collect in class to anonymize it:
- What is one takeaway you remember from the course so far?
- How do you feel about your participation in [name an activity, or “discussion”] this week?
- What works best for you in class?
- Is there a change that would enhance your learning?
- Do you have any questions or comments for me?
Use this as a quick temperature check for your students’ experience.
And be willing to adjust!
Look for trends in what’s working and what’s not. Can you incorporate any of their suggestions? Can you redirect the next class session based on the changes they suggest?
During the next class session, share a summarized version of the themes you heard. Quickly explain how you will address suggestions, and ask students to respond to that plan. As with the midterm check-in, this exercise offers students ownership and a voice, which will improve your evaluations at the end of the course. But only if you communicate openly and do not become defensive.
Make Entrepreneurship Relevant
What do you do with the entrepreneurship students who don’t want to be entrepreneurs?
Whether they’re taking your class because it fit in their schedule, someone said it was an “easy A”, or it’s a required course, we all have students who don’t identify as entrepreneurs. Not only can their personal feedback lower your evaluations, but their lack of engagement can hinder the experience (and as a result the evaluations) of other students.
The best way to engage these students is to…
Make entrepreneurial skills relevant, regardless of career path.
Kim Pichot had one of these students. A disillusioned senior so checked out of school that at one point he asked her, “What can I do to graduate? I just need out of here.”
Luckily, that semester Kim had started using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum, which starts off with an exercise designed explicitly to engaged this type of student: Fears and Curiosities.
This exercise helps your students express what they are most curious, and fearful, about…which is the recipe you need to make entrepreneurship relevant to all of your students.
- When students tell you they’re worried about finding a job, you can point out that in this class, they’re going to learn a wide range of marketable skills that employers are actively hiring for: product design, sales, marketing, website development, video editing, social media management, etc.
- When students say they’re unsure if they’ll be able to make enough money, you can explain to them that the entrepreneurship skills they learn in this class are all about making sure you’ll be able to make enough money to meet your goals. With the finance and budgeting tools they’ll learn in your class, they’ll learn how to both make and manage their money whether they start their own company or not.
- When students say they’re not even sure what kind of job they’ll be good at, you can make it clear an entrepreneurship class like yours is the perfect place to experiment with different types of jobs (e.g. sales, marketing, CEO, finance, prototyping, etc.).
The great thing about this approach is that entrepreneurial skills are genuinely relevant whether or not students want to be entrepreneurs.
You just need to make entrepreneurship relevant to your students on a personal and emotional level.
That’s what Kim did in her class. By making entrepreneurship relevant and engaging, and with a little help from ExEC, Kim’s disillusioned student left her course ecstatic, saying:
Sweeten the Pot
Share a treat with your students. It might be candy, or cookies, or donuts. Celebrate an occasion like a birthday, or one of your students’ sports accomplishment, or just a sunny day! Something sweet puts a smile on most people’s face.
You’re inviting your students to have fun, and when we have fun, we are more likely to remember that experience fondly.
When a group is eating donuts, for instance, you’ll see smiles, you’ll hear laughter and sounds of delight, you’ll find a playful atmosphere. Incorporate fun food into your course, and your students will remember that come evaluation time. Take the time while sharing fun food to also have fun conversation. Ask students questions about their favorite concert, or about their favorite vacation destination, or any variety of questions that lead them to tell humorous stories about fun memories.
One way to incorporate sweets while teaching entrepreneurship skills is an adaptation of the “Retooling Products to Reach New Markets: The Lindt Candy Dilemma” exercise Dr. Kimberly Eddleston at Northeastern University developed. We adapted it slightly to focus more on the customer interviewing opportunity – find the entire lesson here.
Essentially, in this exercise, you task student teams to retool the Lindt Lindor Chocolate Truffle Balls for a new audience – a young person (ideally a family member of yours – someone you can show a picture of and have access to). Students must deliver a 90 second pitch for one product (that is not any sort of M&M type candy) they develop based on the Lindt Lindor chocolate truffle ball that appeals to the target person. Students include the following in their pitch:
- Product name & tagline/slogan
- Product concept/description (user experience, packaging, etc.)
- Value proposition (the benefits the customer should expect)
- Drawing of the product/packaging
Organize students into groups of 4 or 5 members and give them 30 minutes to develop their new product offering. Students often spend too much time on the idea generation phase. Walk around the room, reminding them of the time left. This creates some urgency for them to move beyond idea generation and complete all aspects of the assignment.
In my courses, students know they are designing a product for my son. I sidestep questions about my son because I want students to realize they have access to the actual customer. If students ask to talk to my son, I call them and let the team talk to them (if they are available). If they are not available, I answer questions on their behalf as honestly as possible.
Teams will design a wide variety of products, some related to their own memories of being that age, some related to brothers’/sisters’ interests, and some related to guesses about what young people are interested in. Record student pitches and show them to your target person, who will select a winner and explain their justification (record this and show it to the class).
This exercise forces students to reimagine an existing product instead of creating a new product. The key learning is about customer interviewing. I recommend using this exercise after students have been practicing interviewing around new ideas/products. This allows you to show them the value of interviewing in a new context, which reiterates this most important skill to entrepreneurs.
Discussion questions to ask students include:
- What was the most difficult aspect of retooling the product? Why?
- Did you think about interviewing my son? Why or why not? If you thought about it, and did not interview him, why not?
- Did you think about asking my son (or I) for feedback on your prototype? Why or why not? If you thought about it, and did not ask him (or me), why not?
- What lessons did you learn about new product development?
The main points to reiterate during the debrief:
- If you know your customer segment, interview them! Don’t guess what they want, ask them what they want.
- Do not get lost in idea generation. Quickly gather feedback on ideas/prototypes from your customer.
- Customer wants/needs and jobs-to-be-done will differ drastically between target groups.
Engage, Engage, Engage
All of that said…
The #1 way to improve your evaluations is to engage your students.
Our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) is an engaging experience, for you and your students. Instead of you talking at students, the exercises invite your students to learn by doing, so they engage themselves. For example, your students can…
- brainstorm their ideal customers, so they understand the emotional needs of people they are attached to (i.e. people they are passionate about helping), which become the foundation of their business ideas, ensuring students are motivated throughout your course,
- play a competitive game to learn what questions they should and should not ask during customer interviews, then practice their interview skills with their classmates using our robust interview script.
ExEC Will Improve Your Evals
Students love to be engaged, but they also appreciate fair, transparent grading with structured rubrics. How you provide students feedback is critical to keeping them engaged, so we built robust and easy-to-use rubrics into ExEC! Using ExEC, you provide meaningful feedback very quickly, so students get the instant feedback they insist upon.
Improve your Evaluations This Fall
Preview ExEC and watch your student evaluations skyrocket next year!
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