Thursday, March 22, 2012
Yet another author has added to the increasing literature about the flaws in student ratings. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, Timothy Edwards, an adjunct legal writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, recounts how he received high student evaluations when he catered to his students’ desires. He followed a “consumer model,” telling students exactly how to do his writing assignments. This resulted in high numbers because the students, Edwards, says, place receiving good grades at the top of their priorities. “They are rarely interested in whether they are learning how to be a good lawyer—unless that helps them get a good grade.”
But in his law practice, Edwards and his partners are finding that new law graduates are not prepared for the practice of law. They often fail to understand that legal problems seldom have “easy” or “right” answers. So Edwards decided to stop spoon-feeding. Instead, he now challenges students to wrestle with the uncertainties in legal practice. This leads to student frustration and lower student ratings, he says, but it also results in a better learning experience.
Edwards also points out the irony in law schools’ reliance on rating forms that would never pass muster in a courtroom. They are “insulting, false, and otherwise prejudicial,” and would be inadmissible hearsay, a problem exacerbated by their anonymity. Moreover, Edwards says students are not qualified to judge teaching or even whether they have learned the subject matter well. He adds that the “inconsistent and misguided student evaluations” have provided him with little help as he seeks ways to improve his teaching.
The article concludes that it is not “fair or wise” to judge teaching solely by student evaluations. Students should be exposed to the realities of law practice, “not placated when they complain after being properly challenged,” even if that approach results in lover student ratings.
Hat tip: John D. Edwards