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At my university, at the end of every course, professors have to submit an anonymous survey to the students. In this survey students can write the good and bad aspects of both the course's program and the professor's teaching skills.

Sometimes classes are of very few students (even under 20), so a problem arises: it is very easy to link a survey to a particular student, just by comparing his/her calligraphy in the exam with the surveys. So my question is: should a student mitigate his/her judgment in the survey for fear of a harsher revision of his exam?

Note, I'm not speaking about offensive and/or "off-topic" judgments (i.e. clothing habits), but of legitimate criticism.

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    Is there any reason to think professors see the results before the exams are graded and final grades are assigned? The teaching evaluation systems I'm familiar with are careful not to allow this. – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 20 '15 at 18:53
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    In my department, we don't get the individual forms in the student's own handwriting. (And we don't get anything until after grades are submitted, either.) – ff524 Dec 20 '15 at 19:06
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    If you think the professor might be able to connect the dots, you could take the survey with you, type up your answers, print them out, and hand them in to the department anonymously after you receive your grade. – aparente001 Dec 20 '15 at 19:14
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    As a course instructor I welcome critical feedback because it helps me improve my teaching. I have absolutely no interest in finding out who wrote it, or in 'exacting my revenge' in any way, even if I disagree with the comments made and might be able to guess who wrote them. – Clive Newstead Dec 20 '15 at 19:30
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    @aparente001 It's probably not possible, given the way the survey is typically administered in Italy. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 20 '15 at 23:02
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First, a couple of remarks for those not familiar with the Italian educational system, to provide more context (the OP studies in Italy according to his user profile):

  1. In Italy, there are really no final exams: exams are distributed along the year in 3-4 sessions, and students can decide to take an exam much later than the end of the course. Thus, professors always receive students' comments before the exams (there's no "after").
  2. The kind of survey described by the OP was common in my university up to a few years ago (now, it's managed through a learning management system), and -- yes -- professors received handwritten forms (e.g. I read the You must die remark described here on a handwritten form). The survey should be typically handed back in class, so students can't hand it back after the exam as suggested in one of the comments. In the edit below I explain in more detail the mechanism.

Should a student mitigate his/her judgment in the survey for fear of a harsher revision of his exam?

From my experience, I've never seen anyone wasting time in trying to pair the calligraphy of the remarks with that of the exam papers (I surely didn't), and I'd consider retribution extremely rare (though jerks exist). Therefore, I wouldn't bother mitigating your judgment, but be polite and keep it at a professional level.

Note: How evaluations used to work in my university before the introduction of a learning management system (and how they still probably work in the OP's case)

Teaching evaluations are managed by a university office (not a departmental level). In the paper era, toward the end of the courses, a professor would receive two sets of forms: one contained a questionnaire prepared by the competent office; the other could be filled with free comments.

During one of the lectures, the professor would hand the forms to the students and would give a (20-30) min break to fill them in. At the end, a volunteer among the students would collect the two sets and put them in two different envelopes. The envelope with the questionnaires would be closed, signed and delivered to the office by the volunteer; the other envelope with the free, handwritten comments would be handed to the professor in class.

So, the professor could read the comments before the end of the course and before any exam.

Nowadays, we can still read the comments before the exams (as I said in the first remark, there's no way out for this), but they are no longer handwritten.

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  • "I've never seen anyone wasting time in trying to pair the calligraphy of the remarks with that of the exam papers" (American here.) Not that I think it matters much, but I usually spend enough time grading homework that I can recognize many of my students' handwriting on sight. At my university I only see evaluations after grades have been submitted, but I do see the original handwritten evaluations. – Anonymous Dec 21 '15 at 14:46
  • @Anonymous Students always have to write their names on the exam papers, so we always know the handwriting of everyone. The issue is just the pairing with handwritten evaluations. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 21 '15 at 14:52
  • That's what I'm saying. When I see handwritten evaluations it is often immediately clear to me who wrote them. – Anonymous Dec 21 '15 at 16:15
  • Thank you for your answer and for explaining how the surveys work to the other users, I should have thought to write it in my question. Also at this point I think I won't edit the info into it because your answer is already complete! – user46310 Dec 21 '15 at 18:52
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    Anyway, we are midway to leave paper behind: the questionnaires are already managed through the internet, and only the free comments directed to the teachers are handwritten. – user46310 Dec 21 '15 at 18:54
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I think the best strategy here depends on your knowledge of the instructor. If they are sincere, earnest, and care about students, giving them useful information is a good thing. If they are vindictive, bitter, and dislike students, you are wiser to use other avenues to communicate this to higher-ups. This is universal.

The trickier case is with instructors who for some reason you have little personal "intelligence" about... Perhaps better safe than sorry, so treat the unknown as a worst-case scenario? This is a subtler, more philosophical question, about your own approach to risk and greater good.

In any case, even the most angry, bitter faculty I've know I think would not do anything substantive about grades for a student who's said something negative (or positive). I do suspect that it could be worth a "plus" or "minus", despite their claims to the contrary, but not more than that. I do recall in my own experience having "annoyed" some instructors by non-compliance and patchy attendance...

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I'm not sure if every school does this, but at my school, we did our teacher evaluations before the final exam. The professors, however, were not allowed to view the comments made on the survey until after grades were posted.

Since you say your criticism is legitimate and could help improve the course, I think you should make the comments you have about the course as you see fit. If you don't, the professor won't be able to know the criticisms and will not be able to improve the course to fix the problem(s). Many professors at my school read the comments and took them to heart as ways to improve their courses. Hopefully your professor feels this way as well.

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  • For what concerns your first paragraph, see the remarks in my answer. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 21 '15 at 14:00
  • Yes mine is in the US and we had an electronic system, so handwriting wasn't a concern. I've had many professors that would continually remind us to fill out the survey because they take the comments seriously because they enjoy their work. – Lexi Dec 21 '15 at 14:03
  • I was referring to the fact that there is no such thing as a final exam in Italy, so you always see the comments before an exam or another. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 21 '15 at 14:05
  • I believe the question for OP is who are the grades handed to? I believe when my university had a written evaluation, it still would have gone to the registrar's office first, rather than being handed to the professor. It's possible the evaluations are handed in elsewhere because it's anonymous. – Lexi Dec 21 '15 at 14:12
  • In Italy the registrar's office typically receives the results of the common questions of the survey, but free comments are directly handed to the professors. I'll edit my answer to explain better this. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 21 '15 at 14:16

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