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Student Evaluations Get It Wrong When It Comes To Professor Quality
June 12, 2010 8:58 AM   Subscribe

"Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors" by Scott Carrell and James West is the title of an interesting new study in this month's Journal of Political Economy, a leading journal in economics. (For a summary of the paper, see this review. An ungated version, too). The authors are interested in determining the role of "professor quality" in student learning. They do this by exploiting an unusual institutional feature of the Air Force Academy whereby all undergraduates are randomly assigned their professors, and all professors use the same syllabus. The authors also have the professor's student evaluations, as well each student's subsequent performance in the follow-up classes. To keep it simple, they focus only on Calculus I and the follow-up courses in Calculus (which are mandatory), though they note that an earlier study that looked at Chemistry and Physics found similar things.

They find a few things that are worth consideration. First, they find that professors with higher student evaluations have students who do better on "contemporaneous examinations". Nothing new there. But interestingly, they also find students whose professor had higher student evaluations typically did worse in subsequent courses. They attribute this to the "teaching to the test" that they think may go on in classes where professors have high student evaluations.

Secondly, they find that students who took Calculus I from professors with lower student evaluations did better on subsequent courses. They attribute this effect to "deep learning" that is the focus of the professors with the lower student evaluation scores.

Thirdly, the factors that predict student learning in the longrun were not the student evaluations, but rather, were teacher qualities like years of experience, higher academic rank and teaching experience.
posted by scunning (44 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Without taking a glance at the article, I can verifiably say that a good instructor *does* make all the difference in the world, especially when it comes to topics that can and are typically taught by rote.
posted by vhsiv at 9:06 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But interestingly, they also find students whose professor had higher student evaluations typically did worse in subsequent courses.
That makes sense to me. Once you have a great professor it's hard to adjust to working with a crappy one.
posted by amethysts at 9:08 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't find that too surprising. Students are human and are going to reward professors they "like" more then the ones they don't like. Professor "quality" as rated by the students is going to be subjective.
posted by DavidOlsen at 9:09 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


My freshman year Calc I was taught by a rambling professor who talked more about sets and number theory than calculus. I was shocked and lost at the beginning but with TA sessions and just studying, somehow ended the course both knowing Calc I material and picked up a little bit of what he was lecturing about. I try to be fairly objective in my evaluations, so when it came to questions like "Were lectures relevant to course material?" I gave low scores, but was he an awesome professor? Hell yes. Calc II was a guy who taught page by page from the book -- BORING. Seemed like such a waste of time, but when I answered the evals honestly, he probably got a better score. I didn't "reward" the prof for making it easy, I just answered the questions. Bottom line is, the results are not surprising just because of the way student evaluation forms are constructed.
posted by bread-eater at 9:14 AM on June 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


I read the summary. As someone who taught college for 13 years, some of these findings are a little "yeah, duh." Our evaluations were supposedly anonymous, but it was often very easy to tell who had given the low evaluations and why. "Teacher does not care at all about student needs! Would not help me at all when I asked for it!" from a student who, say, never contacted me until more than a week after a major assignment was due to ask me to help them choose a topic, to whom I replied, "This was due a week ago, and I only accept late assignments if arrangements are made before the deadline, so, No."

My department eventually stopped using student evaluations, in part because for the courses I taught (the required freshman comp courses) the department had instituted a high-stakes end-of-semester portfolio process, with faculty grading each other's students portfolios pass/fail. While it had problems, this did largely solve the problem of nice faculty advancing students who had worked really hard and improved but hadn't really met the minimum standards. However, the students universally hated the portfolio process, and it became almost impossible for faculty in the department to get decent student evaluations because their hate just spilled all over everything.

When I was a young teacher, I often got better evaluations than I deserved because I am very personable and funny in front of a classroom. But I didn't know my material or how to teach it very well at that time, and students didn't seem to notice that.

A friend of mine teaches in a non-tenure-track position at a Big 10 university. Her department weights students evaluations very highly in deciding whether to renew contracts for future years, and as a result she and other instructors are in some ways at the mercy of their students. For instance, students want PowerPoint slides for lectures posted 24 hours before each class meeting. This is not something she wants to do, and it doesn't fit well with her teaching style and how she manages her time, but when she has failed to do it her evaluations have gone down, and that threatens her livelihood.
posted by not that girl at 9:39 AM on June 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


professors who rate highly among students tend to teach students less. Professors who teach students more tend to get bad ratings from their students -- who, presumably, would just as soon get high grades for minimal effort.

The study finds that professor rank, experience and stature are far more predictive of how much their students will learn.


Having used RateYourProfessors, this makes a lot of sense. I'm in English (so I'm guessing it might not line up the same way as Calc) but a lot of teachers get poor marks for being hard.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:42 AM on June 12, 2010


I wonder if this crosses over into the workforce, do managers who receive lower employee evaluations have better performing employees.
posted by humanfont at 9:48 AM on June 12, 2010


"students who took Calculus I from professors with lower student evaluations did better on subsequent courses."

Having struggled through 3 semesters of calc with mostly poor profs and TA's, my take on this is that calculus is best self taught. I think, for some subjects, at the college level, poor profs make for better students.
posted by klarck at 9:59 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


...but a lot of teachers get poor marks for being hard.

This. Some of my favorite professors were widely despised because they made you work hard for each and every credit.
posted by stringbean at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2010


Thirdly, the factors that predict student learning in the longrun were not the student evaluations, but rather, were teacher qualities like years of experience, higher academic rank and teaching experience.

So teachers’ unions have a point, with their whole seniority thing?
posted by kipmanley at 10:03 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Having used RateYourProfessors, this makes a lot of sense. I'm in English (so I'm guessing it might not line up the same way as Calc) but a lot of teachers get poor marks for being hard.

Which is exactly what we'd expect from a site whose major rating criteria include "easiness" and "hotness."
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:16 AM on June 12, 2010


I think this is interesting, but it neatly glosses over the fact that some instructors get poor evaluations because they are genuinely terrible instructors. Lack of clarity, low commitment to timely feedback, lack of connection to the class and to their students--all these things are significant contributors to lower student evaluations and all things I'd be willing to wager do *not* correlate to improved student performance.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:18 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Does anyone think that teacher evals are a good way to go about assessing professors?
posted by oddman at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2010


That makes sense to me. Once you have a great professor it's hard to adjust to working with a crappy one.

Or more likely: Students give higher evals to easier teachers.
posted by delmoi at 10:22 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing is that you're only going to have a handful of great professors/instructors in your college career and if you want to get an education, you're going to have to figure out how to survive the the others. My experience may be colored by having gone to three large research institutions but most of my professors were way more interested in their research than teaching. But it was my job to learn and the information was there even if wasn't handed to me in the most efficient or cheerful manor.
posted by octothorpe at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2010


I wonder if this crosses over into the workforce, do managers who receive lower employee evaluations have better performing employees.

I haven't done a study, but in my experience, not for long. A tough but fair hard-ass will get low ratings for a while. But as the workers get used to the style and expectations, and they start enjoying the benefits of being good at what they do instead of letting details slide, they become fiercely loyal and ratings show that.

An unpredictable asshole boss just gets consistently crappy ratings, and the "buddy" boss who lets everyone slack gets "meh" ones. Unfortunately for him, the kind of slackers who like the buddy don't take the evals seriously and just put all 4 out of 5 or something like that, especially if you make 1s and 5s on a question require a written justification.

I suppose it might turn out the same in the school setting, except that the students wouldn't repeat the same professor often enough for the good guy's ratings to improve.
posted by ctmf at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's so self-evident that students don't appreciate good professors and only reward the easy ones. I've read student evaluations as part of my job and you can see why they gave the ratings they gave in the comments. The teachers that get high scores reflect that the teacher actually taught and graded fairly.
posted by amethysts at 10:34 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's also the issue of teaching style. My daughter struggled through Calc-II this year, not because of the sheer difficulty, but, rather, she didn't "click" with the instructor's style. An intangible, to be sure. But, once she could get some one-on-one time with the instructor (who was also the department head) or a peer tutor, she better understood the lessons and pulled high B's and A's through the term. But, her difficulty (and the prospect of more classes with the instructor in question) was enough to scare her off pursuing a pure math major.

Overall, though, she still gives the guy high marks because she understands that successful teaching is a two-way street.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:39 AM on June 12, 2010


Thirdly, the factors that predict student learning in the longrun were not the student evaluations, but rather, were teacher qualities like years of experience, higher academic rank and teaching experience.

kipmanley: So teachers’ unions have a point, with their whole seniority thing?


Sort of, but not generally in the institutional way in which they apply all that. As someone who's been in both a unionized faculty and a non-unionized ones, each has their ups and downs, but that's another topic. What is apparent to me from a decade of teaching is just how bad most student evaluations are at telling you anything about the class or the teacher, and how correspondingly atrocious the use of them by administrators is. Teachers at the college different levels face a grand "up or out" moment and numerical evaluations play an enormous role in them. Adjunct faculty - those hired on one-year or single-semester contracts - face that even more frequently. Regardless what subject you teach, odds are that the administrators above you outside your department know very little about it. Numerical evaluations give them a discrete value to place on your work that has the air of objectivity. Adjunct faculty in particular find their performance evaluated against some threshold; "Oh, Joe got a 4.1 out of 5, so we won't hire him back next semester. But Jane got a 4.5 out of 5, above our threshold of 4.4, so we'll bring her back." A more general, long-term approach is done for people on tenure track, but it is similar in many ways.

The thing is, anyone who has taught for any period of time can tell you that numerical evaluations are terrible indicators of how well anyone actually teaches anything. You are asking for an evaluation from someone (the student) who is only just coming to understand the subject and whose self-evaluation of how they've learned may itself be unreliable. Students are much more apt to answer that question based on how genial a relationship they had with the instructor and how much they actually wanted to take the class in the first place. When I taught in the California state system, they actually had different thresholds for satisfactory performance for different course levels. If you were teaching a required lower level general ed course that garnered a lot of student hostility, like critical thinking or intro philosophy, you just got stacked up against different numbers. No matter how well you taught, you were just going to face a statistically significant number of students who were lined up against you. A friend of mine at another school taught physics and like a good scientist, decided to gather some empirical data for comparison. He taught two sections of an intro course - same text, same class notes, same lecture, everything - back to back one semester. In one of the sections, he brought in doughnuts once a week, and in the other class, he didn't. Even when he pointed this out to students and told them not to consider it in their evaluation, the difference was dramatic - half a point on a 5-point scale. As you can imagine, grades come into this as well: grade hard and teach well, low numbers; grade east and do the same teaching, high numbers. (I think this, coupled with greater numbers of adjunct faculty, explains a lot of the grade inflation US colleges have seen over the last 30 years.) Even when you separate questions about the instructor from specific questions about the course, evaluation of the instructor turns into a more complex and ambiguous response. I'd compare it to presidential approval ratings. People often answer those questions knowing little of what the president has actually done, instead basing the answer on a general satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the economy, etc.

The problem that this creates is that it fosters a certain culture of teaching in places that care about those numbers. Professors early in their careers are systematically pushed to be more entertaining, endlessly available, to give the sense that they are everybody's best friend, that they'd never actually give someone a C, and so on. My mom sent me this video about an adjunct at UMBC (I was an adjunct at UMBC briefly, too) and it's a snapshot of what this creates - someone who has to be entertaining and endearing first and actually teach second. For all the perils of creating deadwood, one effect that tenure has is to change the way a professor can approach a class. You can demand more and entertain less. It's still critical to be good an gauging your students both intellectually and emotionally, but you're freer to push them in ways you are systematically discouraged from pushing them at earlier stages in your career. If you combine that with a great many other important factors, better teaching becomes a more attainable goal rather than a small miracle.
posted by el_lupino at 10:53 AM on June 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Having struggled through 3 semesters of calc with mostly poor profs and TA's, my take on this is that calculus is best self taught.

After the mind-opening experience I had with my honors calculus professors my freshman year, I'd have trouble believing that. It's true, at the time I was pretty motivated, I already knew some calc from having taken the AP course in high school (and having a pretty good teacher there, too). These guys were serious about stretching minds, though, and they clearly thought a lot about how to get students to come to grips with deep concepts, and they also clearly thought about how to make a classroom run. I know some of it has to go down to what kind of students take honors calc classes, too, but the little classroom communities those two courses created were some of the best educational experiences of my life, near ideal learning labs. I'm sorry to say that by contrast, the rest of my Math classes (it became my minor, and then my major) were lacking, however interesting they were, however well the professors knew the material and however personable they were. And it's also interesting to me that many years later, I actually remember a good deal of my calc better than I remember many other things. It's possibly because I ended up treading and re-treading some of those foundation paths many times more during the umpteen other courses. But I don't think that's all there is to it.
posted by weston at 10:55 AM on June 12, 2010


Teachers at the college different levels

Teachers at the college level

"Please check your paper for spelling and grammar errors before turning it in. B-"
posted by el_lupino at 10:57 AM on June 12, 2010


In some ways professor rating is near pointless. As has been observed over and over here and elsewhere, if you do you job and challenge and educated your students at a point in the life when what the majority of them want is entertainment and ease then you'll get bad marks. At the same time I also dislike the GPA system pretty intensely, much preferring a pass/fail accompanying a narrative evaluation.
posted by edgeways at 11:08 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you were teaching a required lower level general ed course that garnered a lot of student hostility, like critical thinking or intro philosophy...

Just quoting for truth. As an adjunct I simply have no time for research whatsoever. This compelled me (in a way) to focus on pedagogy and devising ways to engage the students who, as you observe, would ordinarily resent (to put it strongly) having to take a required, say, humanities course like Philosophy, without dumbing the material down to the point of pointlessness. It is an increasingly hard line to walk, as students are arriving at college and university (anecdotally, though I think the data backs this up) increasingly less prepared for strenuous, rigorous academic work. I am confident that I have become very good at instruction in part because the research arm of my job has been stripped, but the status quo is a shame no matter how you slice it.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:18 AM on June 12, 2010


Also, anecdotally, it seems treating your students like human beings and making cultural references that show you have at least a vague sense of what is happening outside the walls of academia eases a lot of the potential hostility and tension from the get-go. It also helps if you do not give the impression that you would rather be doing your precious research instead of wasting your time on these young minds with something so banal as instruction. At least, my evaluations have pointed to my obviously enjoying being in the classroom as a recurring strength, and I have to imagine that helps with comprehension, at least, up to a certain point. It cannot be all dick and fart jokes, though. Sadly.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:21 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have not been through the American school system so I don't know if this applies but my experience was that there was a huge difference between high school level teaching and college level teaching. It took some getting used to being solely responsible for your studies. Some hand holding from the first professor would probably have been appreciated, if not really a preparation for the rest of college.

Is it possible that the student would appreciate another type of professor in Calc III then they did in Calc I?
posted by furisto at 11:41 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It is an increasingly hard line to walk, as students are arriving at college and university (anecdotally, though I think the data backs this up) increasingly less prepared for strenuous, rigorous academic work."

My (anecdotal) experience as a TA supports this pretty strongly, as well. I TAed intro Geology many times. This was a required course for environmental science majors, and I typically found my students were pretty poorly prepared. How does one teach a specialized subject when one also has to teach students how to answer 'short answer' type questions?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:00 PM on June 12, 2010


College professors, in my anecdotal experience, are just generally crap at teaching. And it makes sense - they don't go through any pedagogical training. I could always spot with a 100% success rate the professors I had in college who had also taught high school because they were just more composed, had a more structured but adaptive presentation, and recognizably used a variety of teaching techniques, whereas the college-only professors had pretty clearly been winging it from the beginning of their careers - they'd re-invented the wheel from scratch with varying degrees of success.

Reading the review of the article it seems to me that although they're probably correct that student evaluations are inaccurate, their conclusion that poorer evaluations with more success in subsequent courses means that the evaluated professor was actually a good teacher seems unwarranted. The professor could have been such a crappy teacher that the students were basically left on their own as far as learning anything and consequently became more autonomous. (Which might be of benefit to the students if that's something they hadn't really done before, but it still doesn't count as good teaching.)
posted by XMLicious at 12:37 PM on June 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is not surprising to me at all.

Case in point: Elizabeth Haines, one of my favorite professors in undergrad, who taught Honors Psychology and the Psych of Women. I suspect she had an especially hard time at it, teaching classes with a feminist focus at a largely conservative university while also being female and attractive. She wasn't a particularly hard teacher (for me, at least, though I'm a nerd), but she was tough, particularly in terms of attendance, policies about late work (essentially, none accepted unless you contact her prior to the due date--totally reasonable, but totally against the grain in an academic setting where professors routinely allowed honors thesis students to turn in their theses after graduation), policies about eating in class. There would be weekly pop-quizzes on required reading--not necessarily hard, but you had to do the work to keep afloat.

Her ratemyprofessor ratings, with the exception of her "hotness" rating, are all over the place, with lots of "poor" ratings. There are a ton of low scores that either talk about how she's essentially seen as "uppity" for insisting that her students do the course work (they complain that she must not understand how difficult their lives are, yaddayaddayadda) or talk about talking her clothes off.

She did a series of rebuttal interviews that are fascinating, but I wouldn't recommend reading the comments there unless you want to be driven into a feminist rage. Apparently, wearing a tank top kills ones' academic credibility, or something.

Anyway, I pretty much based my course management policies on hers when I taught in graduate school. For the most part, it was surprisingly well received, but for students who did badly, their complaints were pretty much that I didn't understand that the courses I taught (Technical Writing, Creative Writing) were supposed to be "bullshit classes."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:42 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recall having spent a year at a college other than the one I had tenure at. I was an associate prof. Had to give end of year evaluations and not be in the room. Kiddingly told the students
to be honest and forthright and not worry about the fact that i was married, with an ill wife, and three children to take care of.

Then had to have a visit by a member of the dept to see me teach a class and to evaluate me.
I told her not to bother. She would give me a high rating. She asked how I could know that in advance. I told her I was an associate prof and next week we would meet to discuss and evaluate
assistant profs for promotion.

Student evaluations? They have their place, i guess, but frankly when I taught I was tenured and so didn't give a hoot, though my evaluations were very good, if I might boast a bit.
posted by Postroad at 12:46 PM on June 12, 2010


In my experience there is a disconnect between what students like and what they need, and this study seems to demonstrate that.
posted by sfred at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I went to a college where, while one could learn one's grades, it required going to the registrars office and bugging them. I suspect my adviser probably knew my grades as well. Both tenure and salary increases were based to a great degree on student evaluation. But given the fact that nobody knew their grades, students tended to focus more on how much they felt they had learned. I'm not saying the system was perfect, but it seemed to work well. Classes with one professor who tended to ramble, gave very little homework and didn't teach everything we needed to know for the next class were graded as mediocre. Classes with some of the other professors who taught a great deal but expected you to learn the material and be able to use it were rated highly.

This is purely anecdotal experience, but I suspect that the rating system might be turned on its head if students were only given their grades after they wrote their evaluations, but before their professors saw them.
posted by Hactar at 1:03 PM on June 12, 2010


In a similar vein, one study did show that Good-Looking Professors Receive Higher Teaching Evaluations.

Man, that teacher who wore the miniskirt and the low-cut tank top with no bra really made me focus on the Chain Rule.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:22 PM on June 12, 2010


I suspect that the rating system might be turned on its head if students were only given their grades after they wrote their evaluations, but before their professors saw them.

That's the system at every place I've ever worked and every American college/university of which I know. Evaluations in the last week or two of the semester, then finals, grades posted, then evaluations returned to professors. Are you saying that you went to a place where they wouldn't tell you your grades even after the semester was over?
posted by el_lupino at 1:34 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which is exactly what we'd expect from a site whose major rating criteria include "easiness" and "hotness."

The hardest part of aging, thus far, has been watching the gradual decline in my hotness rating on Rate My Professor. The humanity!
posted by joe lisboa at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Based on my experience I don't even understand why tenured profs even bother doing course evaluations since they clearly (as a class) don't give a crap about how well they're instructing. My fondest wish for reforming academia would be the elimination of the tenure system so that people could actually be held responsible for their (completely terrible) job performance.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:17 PM on June 12, 2010


So teachers’ unions have a point, with their whole seniority thing?

K12 and college teaching are different for more reasons worth mentioning.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:32 PM on June 12, 2010


Secondly, they find that students who took Calculus I from professors with lower student evaluations did better on subsequent courses.

Um. Yeah? When you have an astoundingly poor prof, then you have a mediocre one, you do a lot better under the mediocre one than the poor one. Your performance improves.

Unless they meant, not that the students improved, but that the students from the poorly-rated prof's class did better than the students from the highly-rated prof's class when they each went into the same followup class. That would indeed suggest they were better prepared. It's too one-o'clock-Sunday-morning to delve into the paper and see.

But yeah, I had several cases where a terrible, terrible prof taught me nothing--sometimes in a language that should have been English but bore very little resemblance--and the next prof ended up teaching me both their class and its pre-req. I'd manage to suddenly get concepts that had eluded me before as the prof was going over their own class's material, and so I'd perform dramatically better in the second prof's class than the first.
posted by galadriel at 10:18 PM on June 12, 2010


The only thing worse than teaching to the test is teaching to get a good evaluation from students. Admin who use student evaluations to rate professors are just forcing a 'no child left behind' idiocy at college level. They deserve the teachers who stay behind with them.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:38 PM on June 12, 2010


The only thing worse than teaching to the test is teaching to get a good evaluation from students.

This is kind of flirting with a false dilemma, no?
posted by joe lisboa at 11:55 PM on June 12, 2010


No, I don't believe so, Joe, unless you think teaching to the test is not so bad. I think it is pretty bad. Most teachers don't think much of it. When evaluations are used as a threat/judgment and a teacher responds by teaching with 'self-preservation' rather than risk, the students lose (the teacher is already lost). Good evaluations from students should follow good work -- and good work should be the goal (not the evaluations).

Having said that, teachers DO need to get student feedback about their teaching in order to grow and learn. The best way would be to get useful student feedback EARLY in the course of the class, so that the teacher can clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings. No one benefits from a students' post-class comments about anger/frustration/disappointment.

BTW, I also think that grading students can really suck the risk, creativity and soul out of them, too.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:45 AM on June 13, 2010


I told her not to bother. She would give me a high rating. She asked how I could know that in advance. I told her I was an associate prof and next week we would meet to discuss and evaluate
assistant profs for promotion.


Even if that's how it goes, saying so explicitly is a dick move. If you know it doesn't matter, then just don't sweat it, but don't make veiled threats implying that someone had better give you a good eval or else...
posted by solipsophistocracy at 2:05 PM on June 13, 2010


I'm thinking about entering the field of education in the next couple years and I was wondering . . . are there teacher evaluations filled out by other teachers? I mean, when I went to the Naval Academy, sometimes our professors and instructors would be observed by an outsider (with the standard spiel to us: "They're here to grade me, not you, so just ignore them). Is that normal in other colleges or at the high school level? Though knowing what your students think of you might be helpful (though you change things based on that alone), being graded by your fellow and senior teachers and professors seems like a much more sensible way to base teacher rankings and recommendations for retention. Is this practice common?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:03 PM on June 13, 2010


Though knowing what your students think of you might be helpful (though you change things based on that alone), being graded by your fellow and senior teachers and professors seems like a much more sensible way to base teacher rankings and recommendations for retention. Is this practice common?

In my experience it varies wildly, at least at the college/university level. I have taught at two different community colleges and six different 4-year institutions, and they all had different practices. At some, I received no guidance, feedback, or evaluation from other colleagues. At one, the department chair was required to sit in on at least one class per year of mine, and had a formal evaluation sheet. At my current institution, my department strongly encourages us to have peer evaluations of our teaching in our tenure packets, but there aren't any formal mechanisms, so you have to work out who to ask on your own, and try to pick someone whose judgment you trust. That's not so hard in my department, because we all basically get along, but I could see that being a political minefield in others.

But you're right, the best way to evaluate teacher quality and get good feedback is from peer evaluations, not student evaluations. At their best, all student evaluations can do is identify the extreme outliers and give you a measure of student satisfaction, for whatever that's worth.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:35 AM on June 14, 2010


Sometimes teaching colleagues can offer great advice and support when they observe your class. I had a funny experience with class evaluation visits once. A peer mentor and jr dean stopped by on the same day. The mentor wrote about what he saw: "skillful design of an experiential group project that required team collaboration, critical thinking and application of creative problem solving". The dean only observed that the class was noisy, the chairs out of order and the instructor did not lecture enough. Guess who gets to put an evaluation in the instructor's files.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:41 AM on June 14, 2010


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