Friday, August 17, 2012

Australian Profs Object to Using Student Evaluations in Performance Reviews

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

ALMOST 1000 teachers at one of Australia's leading universities are being told to make their students happy at the expense of confronting their fledgling thinkers with rigorous lessons, according to the union representing lecturers.

Teachers at the Australian National University now need to explain themselves if too many students are not pleased with them and colleagues must argue why courses with student satisfaction rates of less than 50 per cent should be kept.

One teacher emailed the union: ''I feel under pressure to lower standards and make the student experience more comfortable so I don't end up before the head of school to explain myself.''

I stick to a standard view. Assuming that these poorly designed evals  have any validity, high evaluations mean the professor is doing a great job or is fooling the students. Low evals mean the professor needs to do something differently. Evals in the mid range: the professor is probably doing fine.


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Using the numbers without reading the comments is foolish. The "why" of student complaints matters. Is the instructor hitting students? Showing up late? Not assigning material and then referring to it as though it had been assigned? Or is the instructor requiring students to be prepared for class, to which enough students object to lower the numbers? In classes where students should be learning to teach themselves so that they can adapt throughout their lives, are the comments simply complaints about the challenges of learning to do what they are supposed to be learning to do? In middle and high school, how many of the low numbers are simply acting out of adolescent frustration at learning that life isn't all about being spoiled?

Posted by: Jim Maule | Aug 18, 2012 7:11:40 AM

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