Interpreting SPCI Results

Self-Reflection & Student Feedback

Congratulations! Spring 2023 is a wrap and summer is just around the corner. Many of us are finishing up grading or working on submitting our grades. As the semester winds down, we often reflect on how it went, thinking about what worked well and what we might like to change for next time. We hope you’ll find a way to capture the useful information that comes from reflecting.

When we get swept up in the rush to prepare to teach the same course next time, some of our best ideas might be forgotten, so it’s helpful to jot them down at the end of the semester, or better yet, throughout the term in a running list or alongside a copy of the class schedule.

We can also get some useful information, to assist our tinkering, from SPCI survey results, which will come out on May 11th, but there are some important provisos to keep in mind: Research suggests that students’ perceptions of teaching are prone to bias. Additionally, students are unlikely to have the perspective or the expertise to evaluate certain matters, such as the behind-the-scenes work that they do not witness or a faculty members’ knowledge of the field. So although these surveys are commonly called “course evaluations,” students are not actually able to evaluate our teaching; instead, they can share their perceptions, experiences, and feedback.

There is value in surveying students about their perceptions of the learning experiences we’re providing for them, of course. As Maryellen Weimer points out, “the front of the room looks different when viewed from the desk.” Since our students’ learning is our goal, it’s essential for us to find out how effectively we’re reaching them, and for many of us, surveys—whether at midsemester or the end of the term—are our main source of that information (though there are many other methods).

For logistical reasons, we get the SPCI data after grades are in and the semester is over. This means that, unfortunately, most of us read them alone. Some may appreciate that privacy, but others might feel more vulnerable or at a loss for what to make of the feedback. Most of us also tend to focus on outliers, especially negative comments, and the more we care about teaching well, the more identity we have invested in it, the more negative student comments can hurt. Hardly anybody opens their results without a pounding heart.

If you’re newer to teaching, you may never have done this before. You shouldn’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to! When we read SPCIs in isolation, we’re also often without context. The real point of collecting these data should be to learn what we can from them—to get feedback that helps us improve the learning experiences we’re building for our students. But without context, we have no idea what students usually say, or how to analyze or interpret the results.

For example, you might be amazed how often students mention a faculty member’s attire or appearance. Or how brief their comments might be (e.g., “Good class”). There will always be irrelevancies to filter out before you can find the useful information. Because you’re a human being, you’re likely to remember the one negative comment rather than the 70 positive ones. So you need moral support from other people who have done the same—or from other people who have obsessed over negative comments but can now laugh at them. (For example, Leslie still recollects being called a “nuisance” many years ago.)

It may be less stressful and more useful to review your results with a trusted and experienced colleague to help you make meaning of both the qualitative and the quantitative sections. That person could be your chair—if that doesn’t feel too scary—or your mentor, or someone from CAT! We discuss SPCI results all the time with our colleagues, and we are happy to help! If you’d like to make an appointment, please email us at We look forward to working with you, and we hope you have a wonderful summer!