Friday, August 15, 2014

Something to look forward to at the end of the semester

I think it's a fine idea to allow students to complete Likert-style evaluation forms to assess faculty teaching.  Students should provide a numerical score for our teaching and other related abilities.  I just want to label the scale after I get class's evaluation average score.  If I get a 3.2/5 that means I'm doing great because:
1 = terrible
2 = average
3 = outstanding
4 = good and
5 = average
This scale varies from class to class because each class is unique and my evaluation form should reflect that specialness.

Anyway, it's just an idea.

Here's more from the best of RYS:

From Rate Your Student, November 28, 2006

On Student Evaluations

Let me start by saying that I love my job. I love teaching. I love the research component because it's all mine, but I mostly love the classroom and the never-ending supply of young people. I've been in the game for 26 years and think I'm pretty sure I will teach until I retire several years from now.

It's been the greatest career, with dozens upon dozens of amazing experiences. Students continue to engage me and interest me, and watching find their own feet is always a tremendous pleasure.

But today I woke up with a knot in my stomach, and I was out of sorts all day. I was giving my students the evaluation instrument my college uses. As soon as the large white envelope came out of my bag the students started their energetic twittering. I even heard the same comments I always hear: "Yeah, now we get to give the grades," etc.

I always read the preamble that my college gives me to read, about anonymity, about how grateful we all are to gather comments. How we're eager to find ways in which to teach the courses better. There's even a line that reads, "Your instructor welcomes your criticism."

And of course it's all complete bullshit.

My students, for all of their sweetness and energy, don't have any idea whatsoever about my worth as a professor. They won't know what they've learned from me for many years. They certainly don't have the wherewithal or the experience to evaluate my performance in any meaningful way.

I have tenure now, but the evaluations end up in my Dean's file. I still see them each new term. I have to read things like, "She should wax her lip better," and "She should take better care of herself, so she could get another husband," and, "She should get a life and quit caring if I get my lab projects done in time. Lighten up, bitch."

And any goodwill my students earn is gone again after that. My numericals are always above my department average, and I have many wonderful comments each term. But it only takes a handful of comments or ratings to make me just want to puke my guts out and find a job consulting for one of the biotech firms where most of my former students find themselves down the road.

I've never understood why we do it? Why do we ask them the questions at all? Are we too lazy to evaluate ourselves? When I first started teaching, a mentor or colleague would visit every term, and I'd present a teaching portfolio (assignments, worksheets, and student work). My peers would meet with me to discuss my progress, and once a year I'd sit with my department chair or Dean and talk about things I could do to make myself a better instructor in future semesters.

But once I'd been in the game for a few years, Scantron evaluations seemed to overwhelm everything. Because they came out in digits, fractions, decimal points, they seemed to be real, to have weight. My 3.24 was worse than so-and-so's 3.50 for "shows respect to students," and so this information became something that was used against me, for me, whatever applied.

And ever since then I've felt horrible when student evaluations loomed. I thought more and more about them. I worried that I might be unkind when I would not allow a late presentation. Would a petulant and half-stoned student hang on to this imagined slight and blast me on evaluation day? They all seem to know it's coming. They all seem to light up. They continue to think that they're only doing what I do when I grade their work. And it's all wrong. It's so wrong-headed I can't even believe we fall for it.

When I talk about it in class - which I've not done for years - someone always says, "You must get bad evaluations." I've had colleagues say the same thing. That's not the point. I worry even more for young faculty. I see our newest colleagues here jump through hoops to please students, inviting whole lab sections out to coffee, bringing in donuts, allowing endless test and quiz retakes in the hallways of every classroom building for fear of what Missy and Michael Student might check off when evaluation season comes around.

I'm done for this term at least. But I just hated myself and my profession today, and were I a little wiser, I'd go about finding away to banish this useless practice.


  1. It didn't take me long soon after I started teaching to realize that the system of student evaluation was completely bogus. Students used it as a means of saying to me what they were too cowardly to say to my face. (Note: *never* mention that in an interview!) You name it, chances are I was accused of either being it or having done it.

    Maybe it's a student tradition. I remember when I was an undergrad and I often had harsh things to say about certain profs. I'm sure that if there had been a system of student evaluation in those days, I would have made my dissatisfaction known and I might not have been particularly charitable.

    Looking back, many of my academic misfortunes were my own doing, either because I wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer back then or I didn't make a maximum effort. Now that I'm a lot older, my opinions of many of those profs has changed for the better, my original impressions being those of a foolish young man. Perhaps wisdom does come with age.

  2. Anonymous evaluation of teaching by students was one of the dumber ideas from the 1960s, right along with recreational drugs. The idea was that, with the Vietnam war raging, a student could fight and die for his country, so he ought to have the right to vote. The voting age in the U.S. was lowered to 18, and this age group has been under-represented in elections ever since.

    Anonymous student evaluation of teaching followed suit. They were sold to (or rather imposed on) university faculty with the rationale that they could give instructors constructive feedback for improving their courses. From the beginning, this was obvious nonsense, given the vicious, vindictive tone that students so often take.

    Evals are here to stay, though, since it didn't take long for university administrators to realize that evals provide data, particularly numerical data, on instructors. It doesn't matter how statistically invalid many of these numerical data are: frankly, admin aren't interested in that, not that many of them could understand it anyway. What they want is something to absolve them from blame for their bad decisions, and numbers can do that, with their objective appearance.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. You're right about administrators using student evaluations to provide data. At the institution where I used to teach, my department head and his trusty ally, the assistant DH, used them, sometimes conducted without my knowledge, to dig up dirt on me. (By the way, the results for the ones that I officially conducted were supposed to be confidential and for my eyes only. Somehow, those 2 always seemed know what the kiddies said about me.)

      It became so ridiculous that when someone made comments on the same level as "Dr. Vertical doesn't punch holes in the paper" or "He never brings a stapler with him", my DH used that as the smoking gun he was looking for. Most my other numbers weren't so bad but those statements were overwhelming proof that my being hired was the biggest mistake the institution ever made, or so those 2 believed.

      Soon after that, I resigned. I'd had enough of the absurdity.

    3. Now you know one reason I have such a strong reaction to STAPLES!!! (Twitch! Twitch!)