The Problem with Student Evaluations

In a blog entry titled
What’s wrong with academia, part two hundred and twenty-four, the pseudonymous B**ch PhD complains that the student evaluation is typically the only regular feedback [professors] get on any aspect of our jobs. Let me tell you, her entry, as well as many of the 110 comments, gave me the willies—because of how much I could identify with the sentiments. When I was teaching, student evaluations could twist me in knots for days—maybe because my personality tends more toward the Woody Allen than the Clint Eastwood, but maybe because the circumstances surrounding student evaluations make it almost impossible not to be neurotic about them.

Here’s more from her entry:

Is anyone else bothered that our primary feedback on our work comes from children? I’m talking, of course, about course evaluations. But if you think about it for a minute, it’s true: most jobs, you complete a project, someone tells you good job (or should). Moreover, the people who observe and evaluate your work are peers and superiors. In academia, the people who observe and evaluate you on a day-to-day basis are distracted 18-year olds who don’t understand what your job actually is.

Even worse, for the first few years of my teaching career, I was evaluated by distracted 15-year-olds. The evaluation forms were lousy, too. I have to give the school some credit, though, because they eventually gave us a choice of whether or not to have the students fill them out.

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3 Responses to The Problem with Student Evaluations

  1. Before moving to Grand Rapids I worked for a year as VP Education and Representation in the University of Reading Students’ Union. One of my key tasks was to encourage strong feedback mechanisms between students and their teachers and it was constantly an uphill struggle!
    I tended to look on the course evaluation forms as part of the professional development the university teaching staff received far too little of (things are changing, but support with research always trumped all other prof dev), but constantly had to explain that such evaluation forms were only really useful if they were part of an ongoing dialogue.
    Students became apathetic about the forms when they seemed to disappear into the ether, and teaching staff were upset because too often the comments seemed uninformed. The only places where they worked effectively was in those departments that had functioning, well-supported staff-student fora. In those departments there was often constructive feedback as student representatives were able to inform their peers about the pressures on the department, as well as about the reception their comments received.

  2. Aunt Ginny says:

    When I was teaching at the college level, reared its head. I felt blessed to get good reviews but then the second guessing began- was it because the course was good or b/c it was too easy? Some colleagues got blistering reviews for anyone to see. Mostly evaluations of personality rather than teaching content. And there’s no filter for students with large axes to grind. Also, students can rate the prof on whether or not they were HOT as in sexy! The relevance of that to learning is murky.Yikes!
    A wise colleague advised me that when looking at student evals, you throw out the worst ones- the ones that say you’re absolutely terrible, but you also have to discard the top ones that say you walk on water. Bummer.
    Glad I’m not playing that game anymore!

  3. DEAN says:

    When I was 16 I would have given my english teacher the worst review ever. But my spanish teacher the best review. Now that I am older I give them an okay for their best efforts. English teacher failed me ( I failed the class on my own ) it was my work or lack of work. Spanish teacher helped me in every way she could to pass and I passed the class. They both knew I could do the work but helped me in different ways. It’s weird how I learned it years after I graduated. What I mean to say is letting a kid evaluate a teacher is not the best thing to do. Teacher should not get judged by students or peers, but by their work in class. It takes a special person to be a teacher. Karl I know you are one of them.

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