Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On student teaching evaluations

I see that Jennifer Bard at PrawfsBlawg has written a couple of very interesting posts on student teaching evaluations: here and here.

My experience is that we care a lot about student teaching evaluations where I teach (at Berkeley Law).  Indeed, I think we pay far too much attention to student teaching evaluations, considering the literature on how problematic these evaluations are, some of which Jennifer cites in her posts.

For promotion purposes (but not generally for lateral hiring), we also rely on classroom observations by colleagues.  But the problem here is that evaluations of observed classroom teaching by colleagues almost always come out positive.  No one wants to be a stinker and write a negative evaluation of someone who is likely to be a colleague for a long time.  And even were reviewers more willing to write negative evaluations of classroom observations, this would raise significant concerns about the potential for bias.

Few disagree with the importance of evaluating teaching.  The question is whether and how this can be done effectively.

I’ve been pondering the following proposal: What if we required all candidates for lateral positions and for promotions to submit to appointments committees several videos of their classroom teaching along with their syllabi and other supporting materials.  These videos and materials could then be sent out for anonymous evaluation, similar to how we currently review scholarship.

Of course, videos of classroom teaching could only capture certain aspects of the professor-to-student relationship.  I wouldn’t want to propose relying on this system of review as the sole mechanism for evaluating teaching.  But I’m inclined to think we should deemphasize student teaching evaluations by making anonymous reviews of videos of classroom teaching an important component of our evaluation processes.

I’d welcome thoughts or reactions to this proposal.  Is this a harebrained idea or a plausible direction for reform?


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