Update: 4 tips! See the comments.
Thoughts I really liked from Atalanta on the Chronicle forums.
1. If you make everything available online at the beginning of the term, they will not appreciate it (i.e., take it for granted) and will probably make unreasonable demands for more online stuff that you don’t want to prepare. So instead, try this:
Withhold a few course materials from your web site (review problems, practice exam, outline of topics to review for exam, useful links) and then reveal them one by one at a time when they will be most useful. Announce to the class, “I had a few requests” (even if you haven’t) “…for some practice problems so I’ve put together a set of extra problems with solutions to help you prepare for the exam. They’re now available on the course web site.” The students will think you are being very responsive and doing extra work just for them.
2. Students ALWAYS want some sort of review sheet for exams. If you don’t already have one, you can do this: take the detailed outline from your syllabus and replace it with a bare bones outline. Then hand out the detailed outline just before the midterm or final exam and call it an exam review sheet.
3. The next trick is almost like cheating; I try to avoid it but it works if the course evals are done before a substantial final exam. Give them a midterm exam that is fairly straightforward and a little easier than average. It makes them all feel like they are doing well in the class. Then you can “even things out” with a slightly harder final exam. [But don’t slam them with a crazy-hard final. That’s not nice.]
4. You can tweak your evals slightly by judiciously using keywords from the evaluation questions in class. Example: I used to get low marks for the item “Professor provides constructive feedback throughout the course”. So now, every time I review homework or exams in class, I announce that I want to “take a few minutes to give some constructive feedback”. My scores shot up even though I didn’t really change anything.
I’m fairly sure 3 isn’t ethical and it doesn’t apply to comp courses anyway, but I really liked 1 and 4.
The best way to keep standards high while getting good evals is to demonstrate respect and understanding for the students. And it turns out that the best way to get students to write about your respect and understanding on your evals is to tell them in class how much you respect them. “Thanks for taking my class. I want to tell you how much I respect and admire you. I know how hard it is to combine this night course with your busy lives yadda yadda yadda.”
Those are some good and simple ideas.
1. Tell students you respect them.
2. Use the words from the student evals in class to show when you are doing those things.
3. Present info in sections instead of giving everything at the beginning or on the syllabus.