Wednesday, August 6, 2008
An article by Arthur Best (Denver) in volume 38 of the Southwestern University Law Review (the working paper is downloadable from SSRN) looks at the educational research surrounding the validity of student evaluations of their professors and adds Best's own analysis of evaluation forms in use around the country.
In Student Evaluations of Law Teaching Work Well: Strong Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, Best argues that such information is useful--and current practices appropriate--in two primary contexts: professors' assignments to courses and students' course selection. But in collecting data useful for professors' self-improvement, such evaluations can probably be improved in "timing and style." And as for promotion and tenure decisions, Best concludes that the data should only be used to identify "outliers," primarily because of the influence of bias and because small numerical differences between professors do not provide reliable bases for such important decisions.
Examining forms used at thirty-eight law schools, Best notes their tendency to assess learning as if students are merely passive receptors of knowledge disseminated by their professors, using what he refers to as "professor-centric" questions. He suggests that schools revisit the phrasing of their questions, changing the focus from what the professor did to the students' assessment of their own participation in their learning.
hat tip: Law Librarian Blog