What are the criticisms to student evaluations of teaching? by @hubert_ai


Known Criticisms of Student Evaluations of Teaching

Both research, educators, and students that we at Hubert.ai have been in contact with have not been restrictive in letting us know what sorts of headaches exist within student evaluations. Here are some of the most notorious critique:

  • Not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. Some reports claim that SETs are not a valid measurement. There are even occasional studies claiming that they are negatively correlated to teaching effectiveness.
  • Subject to bias. One of the most researched topics on SETs is what bias comes into play when students are assessing teacher capability. Scholars have seen indications of bias based on student workload, interests, class size, discipline, and gender.
  • Low response rates. Low response rates have a high impact on the value of evaluations. Generally, when a course has less than ten students, or fewer than 66% percent of the class participate, the mean value of the responses are not statistically viable and should not be used in any type of comparison (Benton & Cashin, 2012).
  • How can you know what you haven’t learned? To evaluate how much you have learned, you need to know what you haven’t learned.
  • Student satisfactory measures. Student evaluations of teaching is only measuring how happy the student are with the class on an individual level.
  • Not improvement focused. Students can’t be of much help when it comes to proposing improvements.
  • Students are students, not teaching experts. Why would you ask someone with far less experience to judge how you are performing in the classroom?
  • Out-of-line objectives. Student and academia sometimes have differing objectives with education. Ideally, both parties are looking for effectively transferred knowledge, but often students are looking for good grades more-so than optimal learning. Do students award teachers higher scores when they feel the learned more or when they feel a high grade was easier to achieve?
  • With anonymity comes obscenity. Many students treat anonymous feedback forms like online forums where nothing is too much. Students can be extremely rude when they can hide opinions behind anonymity. Many schools’ have one or more employee just to censor nasty comments. Research have shown that negative feelings such as anxiety, unhappiness, and anger are often associated with SET-results. This can lead to feedback not being read and no improvements being made.
  • Time-consuming. Sending out forms, collecting feedback and analyzing results can be incredibly time-consuming. Not to mention interpretation and figuring out what and how to change.

How about from the student’s point of view?

  • No personal incentive. Students have no personal incentive to sincerely respond to summative assessments at the end of the course.
  • Survey overflow. Many take 3–5 courses in parallel and can be faced with multiple evaluations over few days in some cases.
  • Boring. Most students regard SETs as boring, and frankly, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone
  • Perceived as purposeless. Many students that we’ve talked to don’t know what their answers are used for.

And then we haven’t even started on the hazards related to using SETs in promotional decisions.

SETs in promotional purposes — What about it?

Using SETs as a basis for promotion and tenure decisions have been increasingly criticized due to a number of reasons over the last few years. Many researchers argue that they should be abandoned completely in the final verdict.

— Why you ask?

As teachers often are required to average at least 4.7 on a 5 point scale to have a good chance of advancing in career opportunities, the pressure of getting good evaluations is often tough and can lead to curriculum deflation as some teachers testify about:

A professor who found that out the hard way, some two decades ago, is Peter Sacks. His book Generation X Goes to College was among the first I read when I came to the Pope Center. It discussed his first year of teaching journalism at an unnamed but clearly non-selective college. He wanted to teach an academically strong course and demanded quite a lot of writing from his students, all of which he carefully critiqued.

Then came his first course evaluations. After his superiors had read them, Sacks was called in for a meeting. The chairman was concerned over the fact that so many of the students had given the course very low marks. He let Sacks know that he would not be rehired if his evaluations remained so terrible.

In his next semester, Sacks embarked upon what he called his “sandbox experiment.” That meant easing up on the students. More fun, less work, little criticism. The result was exactly what he wanted and needed — high course evaluation numbers. He had made his students happy by watering down his course.

From Why Professors Are Obsessed With Student Course Evaluations by George Leef.

This example clearly shows the hazards involved in using SETs as the sole ruling tool in promotional and tenure decisions.

So, if student evaluations of teaching are so horrible, why do we still use them? Surely there must be better alternatives available!?

In the next section, we will have a look at what alternatives exist when it comes to measuring student metrics. Don’t miss out!

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