The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has implemented a common Student Learning Experience Survey (i.e., course evaluation) across all colleges for undergraduate and graduate coursework. The survey is administered through Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys, an online course evaluation software tool, and consists of a common set of core questions.

Watermark CES can also be used for mid-semester surveys.

A set of guidelines for customizing the survey, administering the survey, and analyzing survey results was developed by a task force of 15 faculty from across campus during the 2018-19 academic year, which was co-led by Amy Goodburn, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Undergraduate Education, and Judy Walker, Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty and Academic Affairs. The task force also included a representative from ASUN Student Government and Information Technology Services.


Customizing the Survey

Instructors and departments have the ability to add a limited number of specialized questions appropriate to the course with approval of the department chair and college dean’s office. Custom questions should be considered carefully to keep the overall student experience simple and brief and focused on the student experience in the course. General questions like "Rate the overall effectiveness of this instructor." or "Rate the overall effectiveness of the course." are not in keeping with the spirit of the survey and should not be asked.

Administering the Survey

  • All students in the Canvas course during the period designated for the survey, and only these students, should be eligible to complete the survey.
  • Instructors should encourage students to complete the survey and can allocate class time for doing so, as high response rates are important for meaningful results.
  • Student responses are anonymous. Watermark CES works through Canvas, but responses are not identifiable to any particular student.
  • Colleges and departments may provide incentives for entire classes to take the survey (e.g., extra credit for everyone in the class if the overall participation exceeds a certain threshold), but in the interest of confidentiality may not reward individual students for doing so.
  • For courses on a standard semester schedule, surveys should be made available to students for a two-week period, ending on the final day of class. Courses with alternative schedules should adjust the survey period appropriately.
  • The suggested timeline for mid-semester evaluations is during the second quarter, sometime between weeks 4 and 8 in a 15-week course. Questions should be short, simple and open-ended. One example would be: “What aids your learning in this course and why?” and “What impedes your learning in this course and why?” followed by space for answers.
  • For laboratory and recitation sections, separate surveys for each instructor of record should be administered at the end of the course. Colleges and departments may develop alternative sets of questions for these sections.

Analyzing Survey Results

  • Student surveys are useful for gathering students’ perceptions of their own learning experiences and are an important part of an overall teaching performance evaluation, which should also include peer evaluation and self-evaluation.
  • Student responses represent information that is fundamentally qualitative and should not be used for quantitative analysis. Any quantitative information gathered should be used for peer review and self-reflection.
  • Mid-semester survey results should be for formative use by the instructor and not included in summative evaluations. Instructors can, however, choose to include results in their self-evaluations. Mid-semester results could also be shared for course development purposes or with the supervisory faculty member for an instructor-in-training.
  • It is important to treat past evaluation results and the Student Learning Experience Survey (i.e., new common course evaluation) responses as two distinct data sets.
  • Colleges will develop policies regarding whom, in addition to the instructor and the instructor’s department chair, should have access to survey results from individual courses. Check with your college dean’s office for more information.
  • Responses should not be released to the instructor until after final grades are submitted. The suggested timeline is one week after the deadline for grades to be submitted.
  • Overall responses should not be published publicly, and instructors should not be ranked by results. Additionally, instructors should not be penalized for poor response rates.
  • Survey results for cross-listed courses should be reported in aggregate, not split according to the course code in which individual students are registered. In the case of combined undergraduate/graduate courses, results should be split unless one group is comprised of fewer than 4 students. The department home of the instructor should receive the report and other departments can request access, if needed.
  • For courses with multiple instructors, surveys focused on individual instructors can be administered at discrete times throughout the semester. Results for each instructor should be released simultaneously after final grades are submitted.

Additional Information

Questions about the survey and guidelines should be directed to Amy Goodburn, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Undergraduate Education, or Christopher Marks, Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs, at 402-472-3751 or,

Questions about technical implementation should be directed to Ben Lass, System Administrator for Watermark CES, at 402-472-2313 or Training for administrators responsible for Watermark CES implementation is available.

COVID-19 Response

Instructors have the option of not having evaluation results for spring 2020 semester considered in merit decisions, including annual evaluations, reappointment, promotion, and tenure. If instructors choose to opt-out of having their student course evaluation results being included in their evaluation portfolios, they need to notify their dean or department chair of that decision.

Note that giving instructors this option has the potential of causing inconsistencies in what data is considered when departments and colleges perform faculty evaluations. Additional information about managing this complexity is forthcoming.