Recent research verifies that when looking at small differences in student ratings, faculty and administrators (in this case, department chairs) draw unwarranted conclusions. That’s a problem when ratings are used in decision-making processes regarding hiring, reappointment, tenure, promotion, merit increases, and teaching awards. It’s another chapter in the long, sad story of how research on student ratings has yet to be implemented in practice at most places, but that’s a book, not a blog post. Here, my goal is to offer some reminders and suggestions for when we look at our own ratings.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Reading students’ comments on official end-of-term evaluations—or worse, online at sites like RateMyProfessors.com—can be depressing, often even demoralizing. So it’s understandable that some faculty look only at the quantitative ratings; others skim the written section; and many others have vowed to never again read the public online comments. It’s simply too painful.
How else might you respond? Here are seven suggestions for soothing the sting from even the most hurtful student comments:
Student ratings can provide helpful and legitimate feedback. Unfortunately, all too often, students give very little time or thought to end-of-course evaluations, or they use them as an opportunity to make mean-spirited comments about the instructor. And, all things being equal, an instructor who teaches a challenging course will score lower than an instructor whose course is less rigorous.
Two researchers used end-of-course ratings data to generate a cohort of faculty whose ratings in the same course had significantly improved over a three-year period. They defined significant improvement as a 1.5-point increase on an 8-point scale. In this cohort, more than 50 percent of faculty had improved between 1.5 and 1.99 points, another 40 percent between 2.0 and 2.99 points, and the rest even more.
Unless they have a real problem with how the course was run, most students fill out end-of-course evaluations so quickly there’s often very little valuable information in them. Here are two ways that Wayne Hall, psychology professor at San Jacinto College in Texas, elicits helpful feedback on his courses:
At a workshop on learner-centered teaching, a participant told us that philosophically she couldn’t agree more with the need to make students more responsible for their own learning, but she couldn’t go there because her ratings would take a hit. I assumed this meant she was a new faculty member and under scrutiny for tenure. […]