Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to read students evals - for deans (and profs)

From Inside Higher Ed:

In a phrase: look for outliers. It’s really about spotting the folks who are badly trailing the rest of the pack. Putting much weight on the difference between the lower middle and the upper middle is missing the point. There’s considerable normal variation, and all kinds of irrelevancies can push one instructor slightly above or below another. But when the same few names show up at the bottom of the list semester after semester, it’s difficult to write that off to random variations.

That’s where comments are useful. Some comments suggest ideological or cultural antipathy at work; those discredit themselves. (About once a year I get a student complaining that his professor is gay, and wanting to know what I’m going to do about it. “What would you suggest?” usually ends the discussion.) But some comments are actually revealing. I tend to discount references to “arrogance” or “full of himself,” but I take seriously comments like “he takes two months to grade papers” or “he’s incredibly disorganized.” When clusters of students make the same basic comment, there’s usually at least a conversation to be had.

Some professors like to say that student evaluations shouldn’t exist, or at least shouldn’t count for anything. I have to disagree. When a dean does a class observation, she observes one class meeting. Things like “speed of grading” simply won’t show on the radar, and of course, anyone can have an uncharacteristically good or bad day. But students see every day, so things that might seem inconsequential (or be entirely invisible) in a single moment take on their full significance.

You can read the rest here.


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One doesn't need a student evaluation to determine if a faculty member complies with the school's grade submission deadline. Have a chat with the Registrar. One doesn't need to ask students if the professor provided an organized syllabus for the course. Simply insist that faculty comply with institutional requirements to file a syllabus with the designated administration official. One needs student evaluations to obtain information not available other than by sitting in ore recording every class. Students can provide useful information concerning class beginning on time, the use of bad language, rude dismissal of student questions, failure to track the syllabus, etc. When a student evaluation form asks how many hours a week the student invested in the course, it's getting useful information (though I wonder the value of comments from students who confess to putting in one hour a week for 3-credit course, and, yes, that has happened more than once). On the other hand, comments about a faculty member's ethnicity, height, eye color, other attributes, or ability to tie a tie or color coordinate skirts and blouses are useless. So too, are the whining complaints of "she makes us work hard," or "he left out the topics I wanted the course to cover" or "he teaches as though we've already read the assigned material" (yes, that was a classic) are reasons to ditch not only the evaluation but the numerical scores provided onhat student's evaluation. Skewing the outcome because a student or students who still "don't get it" is insulting to the faculty member.

Posted by: Jim Maule | Dec 18, 2010 7:23:36 AM

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