Making Meaning from Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)–Seeing beyond our own horizons

Carina Jia Yan Zhu, Diana White, Janet Rankin, Christina Jean Davison


Within postsecondary education, the assessment of effective teaching has largely relied upon student evaluations of teaching. However, the process through which teachers make sense of their student evaluations is unclear. A research team of six undergraduate nursing students and four nursing educators explored the research question: How do nursing educators make meaning from their student evaluations of teaching? Gadamerian hermeneutics guided unstructured interviews with nursing educators working at a Middle East campus of a Canadian university. The interview transcripts were interpreted through a process of naïve readings, rereadings, interpretive dialogues, and interpretive writing that generated the following hermeneutic interpretations:

  1. Teachers make meaning of their student evaluation through generalized subjective characterizations of students and through their expressed intentions for their teacher-student relationships.
  2. Some of these characterizations and expressed intentions obscured what truths could be learned from the student evaluations of teaching.
  3. The experience of receiving critical student feedback invoked a personal response, at the same time, paradoxically, teachers worked hard to “not take it personally.”

We suggest the practice of deep listening as a way to understand students’ feedback. The main takeaway message from this research is that teachers need a supportive and sustaining community of peers who are also open to listening deeply to the truths embedded in student evaluations of teaching.


Student evaluations of teaching; nursing education; student feedback; hermeneutics; listening

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Teaching & Learning Inquiry is the official journal of the
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