February 1, 2008

Evaluating college teaching

Since my energy is now sapped, I'll address Eduwonkette's four questions from yesterday:

1) How should learning be evaluated in college?

There are two separate questions (what did individual students learn? and what did groups of students learn?), though I think Eduwonkette is asking more about personnel evaluation. The first two can be evaluated using similar questions and data (including student work!), as long as you acknowledge that classroom dynamics can change things quite a bit. Usually, the first question is tied to students' individual grades, and the second is water-cooler (or coffee-urn) talk among colleagues: how was your class in HVN 101 this semester: better than HLL 666 last semester? Faculty rarely get to ask the second question in more systematic ways.

2) Are course evaluations a fair and comprehensive measure of college teaching?

Eduwonkette is either asking a trick question or conflating the end-of-course surveys that students take with either course evaluation or personnel evaluation. Students are evaluating their own experiences throughout a term, so the survey is more a chance for them to express the conclusions they have already reached, in some fashion, at least if the survey items are at least tangentially related to their concerns. Evaluating a course should involve student feedback but also something about what students learned, not just what they felt or expressed. And evaluating faculty as employees involves additional layers involving their contributions to a course, other information and context often unknown to students, let alone research or service assignments.

3) What should universities do with student course evaluations?

See above on my desire to ban evaluation as the term used for student surveys. But to answer the substantive question: they should be written with input from faculty, include an item on how much effort the student expended on the course (for a few reasons), be available to students (except for graduate students, who are students as well as employees and thus should have some privacy protections), and be part of program and personnel evaluations.

4) What are the potential risks/benefits to students and profs of making them public?

When I was a student, I found the comments far more telling than the numbers. But I suspect that this doesn't have to be theoretical or based on anecdote: there have to be institutions where the survey responses are public, and where one could study the consequences. See above on the graduate-student privacy concerns I have.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on February 1, 2008 11:00 PM |