June 18th, 2009

Students Question Value of End-of-Course Evaluations


We’ve visited this topic before: the quality of feedback students provide on those end-of-course ratings. Many students fail to take the evaluation process seriously because, unless they plan on taking another course with that professor, the feedback will provide little benefit to them even if, by chance, the professor decides to act on it.

And what about those professors students consistently rate poorly and yet continue teaching without making any changes? What does that convey about the value the institution places on student feedback?

Here’s some research documenting that these concerns are well founded. A survey of about 350 students at one university found decided ambivalence about whether student ratings were taken seriously by the professor and the institution. The mean on four items related to the value placed on their feedback was 4.28 on a seven point scale with 1 being disagree very strongly and 7 being agree very strongly.

The researchers said this about their findings. “The results of the overall survey confirm that students are skeptical about the use of the ratings as a barometer of student opinion about professors and classes. They are not reluctant to do them, nor do they have any particular fear of bias. However, since they are unsure whether their opinions matter, or to what purpose the ratings are put, they may not pay much attention to them.” (p. 406)

Interestingly, this research team found that students had a strong desire to express their opinions about teachers and their teaching style. They wanted to influence the quality of instruction at their institution, but they didn’t believe that was happening. In fact at this university, student rating data is made public. Students had so little confidence in the process, they reported that they did not even consult these published results when deciding what courses to take.

Reference: Spencer, K. J., and Schmelkin, L. P. (2002). Student perspectives on teaching and its evaluation. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27 (5), 397-401.