Monday, January 5, 2009

Faculty Beliefs about Student Ratings


Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Editor of the Teaching Professor Newsletter, maintains an excellent blog that addresses many issues associated with teaching and learning. A post in April 2008 raised the issue of a potential disconnect between faculty beliefs and research on student ratings (end-of-semester student evaluations of faculty teaching). I think the most striking part of the blog post is a quote from a research paper on student ratings: "Teachers will not likely improve their evaluations from students by giving higher grades and less course work." (Centra, J., Research in Higher Education, 2003, 44(5), 495-519)

To many faculty members, this is certainly a "hot" topic as the value of student ratings of courses and teaching has been debated for many years. I invite you to read the blog post mentioned above and provide your comments on this blog (click comments below this post) about student evaluations of faculty teaching, a potential disconnect between faculty beliefs and research on student evaluations and/or the role student ratings should play in the evaluation of faculty performance (tenure, promotion, merit, etc.).

7 comments:

JHart_MSU said...

I find it interesting that a graph of my teaching evaluation scores usually matches pretty closely to a graph of the assigned final grades. I am known for having challenging but fair courses and my ratings have been overall very good. I do take great care to ensure that evaluation questions or criteria that I use accurately assess what was taught. When I make a mistake in that regard (we all do) I give the students the benefit of a doubt. I believe that the majority of students are more concerned with "fair" than "easy".

Anonymous said...

I do think the quoted comment in the first paragraph of the original blog depends on the course that you are teaching. Yet, I would hope that fairness would rule the day rather than higher grades with less effort!

Terry Strieter said...

I find the results of this research counter-intuitive and therefore, it seems to me, it might be wise to wait to see if other researchers come to these same conclusions.
Nevertheless, it is very interesting and somewhat liberating to think that we may be able to disassociate the difficulty of our courses from the grades that we award.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I find student evaluations to be quite interesting. Although I have had a range of evaluations in my courses (I teach seniors and graduate students), I find them to be instructive. For example, when I first began teaching at the post-secondary level, a good number of my evaluations indicated that the course was too much work (naturally I had based the course on my own course experiences). Those comments caused me to reflect on the course construction and to eliminate a few assignments that did not necessarily help students achieve the course objectives. In this respect, the evaluations worked to draw inconsistencies to my attention and to make the course better for both students and instructor.

The one thing I find really frustrating is that I do not see the evaluations in time to make any adjustments to the next semester's course if needed. The negative of this is that the new semester's work cannot usually be revised based on the evaluations; the positive is that I do have plenty of time to reflect on any possible changes which I am considering.

Anonymous said...

The inconsistency I have seen with student evaluations is when I have taught two sections of the same course and did everything the same and yet the evaluations are different. Although I don't know why this is I tend to principally attribute this to "class personality." They may also be affected by other issues such as time of day the class meets.

Jim Clinger said...

I was not particularly impressed by the assertions made in the research cited at the beginning of the blog. Much of the research on student evaluations is not particularly good. There are some exceptions, but by and large the research that is frequently cited only examines bivariate relationships between variables (e.g., between course difficulty and aggregate student evaluations). The research often (though not always) fails to correct for selection bias. This is a serious concern because students frequently sort themselves into different classes and disciplines, often based upon the perceived difficulty of the classes, programs, and instructors. The research also usually does not distinguish between evaluations for required courses (especially what we might call University Studies) and courses within a student's major or minor. My conjecture is that student satisfaction with a class and with an instructor may be affected substantially when the course is outside the student's area of interest and which a student is required to take because of university requirements. Within a student's discipline, workload becomes less important. In fact, students may enjoy more work if it is directed toward some topic of great interest to them. Another issue that muddies the interpretation of these relationships is the measurement of course difficulty or workload. There may be no perceptible relationship between class demands and student satisfaction if subjective student assessments of difficulty are used. These assessments are, of course, affected by student self-selection into particular programs. Some programs (e.g., physics) are known campus-wide to be very demanding. Students in physics are expecting a significant workload. Their assessments of workload in non-physics classes may be affected by those gained within classes in their major. However, students in other programs with lower workload tendencies (e.g., many programs I am too cowardly to name) would be outraged at a workload in a class that would seem ordinary for a physics student.

Chris said...

I agree strongly with JHart. Having come from a more research oriented background, it took many adjustments to both my lectures and exams of a difficult course before I found what worked best. Through this process I informed the students that I was vigilantly assessing both the clarity and quality of all aspects of the course, and that I would not penalize them for any errors or inadequacies on my part. This is what seemed to resonate strongest with the students, regardless of their final grade. The vast majority of the evaluations commented positively on being treated fairly and with respect, regardless of course performance, not on the difficulty of the material.