The spring quarter ended in mid-June, so I recently had another chance to review a set of course evaluations. I value course evaluations in general, even though I know that they can have significant problems. I like hearing back from the students about what they felt, and I occasionally get some great ideas on how to improve my classes.

But the lack of consistency in the comments from students in the same class genuinely bothers me. For example, I had the following comments in my course evaluation from my Python class this quarter when asked about grading procedures and exams:

  • “The exams were straightforward but grading on homework was not.”
  • “It’s actually fairer than other professors I had”
  • “Wouldn’t change”
  • “Great process”
  • “Too strict”

Is the grading fair and shouldn’t change? Is the grading too strict? Is the grading not straightforward? Is the process of grading a great one? You could believe any of these reading the set of comments I got.

I tend to simply disregard all the comments when they diverge so significantly, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach either. And I doubt that there is anything that can be done to improve the process of obtaining comments on course evaluations, since I suspect that opinions simply vary significantly between students in the class. It does help to know I’m not alone in the divergent comments, since I’ve heard/read jokes from colleagues about it for many years now.