Course Evaluation

The evaluation system used in most departments for most courses at Texas A&M University is know as a Cafeteria Model of evaluation. Although it might look different at different universities and might have different names, the Cafeteria Model is the system of choice for most large public research universities.  

The Cafeteria Model is based on two basic principles of program evaluation:
Stakeholder involvement recognizes that in a large university with multiple missions, disciplines, and teaching situations, no one set of items will serve every need. The people who are in the best position to determine what question should be asked are those who need the information.

The primary stakeholders for the evaluations are the college administration, the department, and the instructor. Each group of stakeholders can choose to select items that appear on the evaluation form, so for any one course evaluation, some of the items might have come from the college, some from the department, and some from the instructor. There might be different items for lab courses than for lectures. In some departments graduate courses have different items than undergraduate courses.
Evaluations have two general purposes
  • The summative purpose is to provide information to the administration for decisions about promotion, tenure, course assignments, and curriculum. These items are chosen by the college and departments. Summative evaluations are usually conducted at the end of the term and are most often quantitative. Results can be aggregated across courses and course levels and even across subjects if appropriate.
  • The formative purpose is to provide instructors with information for improving their teaching and the course. These items are chosen by the instructor. They can be quantitative as well as qualitative. The results of these items are for the instructor's use only and are not aggregated with the summative items and are not reported to the college or department. Their use is intended to encourage instructors to innovate and to receive feedback on their innovations. Formative evaluations can occur early in the term (Early Feedback) when feedback can help make adjustments to a course or they can occur at the end of the term. Formative evaluations are entirely optional.

The evaluation items can be found in an item bank which includes hundreds of Likert-style items on various aspects of teaching and various teaching situations and in an essay bank of essay questions covering a wide array of teaching situations. The item bank and the essay bank can be found in the PICA system.

At Texas A&M evaluations are conducted either on paper Scantron™ forms which are filled out by students in class or online in the PICA system ( which can be completed inside or outside of class on computer, tablet or phone. Early feedback is available only in PICA.
Paper versus PICA
Research on Course Evaluations