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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Evaluations must ask ‘why?’

    Whether students are writing about a teacher who sparked their interest in a certain subject, or whining about a professor’s never-ending lectures and impossible exams, it’s essential that there’s an outlet to document these perspectives and to hold professors accountable for their teaching. Teacher-Course Evaluations serve as this outlet.

    However, not everyone feels these evaluations are necessary. Michael H. Birnbaum at California State University at Fullerton conducted a study exploring professors’ attitudes about course evaluations. The study found only 16.8 percent of professors thought student responses were unbiased — meaning free from “such variables as the teacher’s personality, attractiveness, gender, race, dress, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status.”

    In an article posted on Slate.com, a German professor claimed that “some of the worst evaluations [she] ever got were for hands-down the best teaching [she had] ever done … measured by the revolutionary metric of ‘the students were way better at German walking out than they were walking in.’” These evaluations could potentially be harmful or damaging to a teacher’s reputation and future as an educator

    TCEs are useful and provide a glimpse inside the classrooms that students, and only students, experience on a daily and weekly basis. Still, there is room for improvement that would result in more accurate and truthful responses for more helpful, relevant and applicable suggestions for teachers.

    While I understand why teachers would be concerned about student evaluations misrepresenting the work that they do, good teaching isn’t just about making sure students learn the material. It’s about the entire learning experience for the students. Boring a student doesn’t make a professor bad, but the student’s opinion is still valid and potentially widespread. Professors can benefit from feedback such as this or choose to ignore it, but at least they are made aware. Students should be encouraged to be truthful and feel empowered by the chance to share their raw experience through feedback.

    Also, I expect there’s an understanding among staff and faculty at universities that student feedback is subjective. If a student or two were to report that a teacher assigned too much work, a supervisor probably wouldn’t think twice. If 90 percent of the class said they were totally burned out, perhaps an administrator would have reason to be concerned. Even then, the professor likely wouldn’t be fired, but they would probably be observed to see if there is any merit to these claims.

    A larger issue might be that students don’t always evaluate professors based on the most productive criteria. For example, a study by Psychology Today found professors earned good evaluations by “teaching to the test and being entertaining.”

    Rather than eliminating TCEs altogether, short answer questions could be added to the survey to minimize the prevalence of high scores simply because some students like an easy A, or at least to help identify these particular students.

    The preliminary questions on the questionnaire should seek to learn a bit more about the student taking the survey beyond their class standing, GPA and whether this course is for their major.

    For example: What are some qualities that make a class “good” in your opinion? Which is more important for you, that a class is easy, that you are learning something from the class, or both equally? Are you a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner? Did you feel that your particular learning style was accounted for through your professor’s style of teaching? Did this affect your overall impression of the course?

    These preliminary questions can let the university know that perhaps a teacher is failing to reach multiple types of learners, not just one lazy student, which may be the first and only assumption a teacher makes upon reading a comment.

    The fact is, students spend a semester, sometimes longer, in a course, following the lead of a professor. Whether their opinions seem to be plagued with bias, emotion or disrespect is neither here nor there — they’re just opinions. But if it really matters, there could be a disclaimer stating that disrespectful answers will result in the disqualification of their input with hopes of encouraging productivity.

    Ignorance and rudeness shouldn’t be tolerated, but the time of students is valuable and our opinions should be heard. Administrators should ask students to explain why they feel the way that they do, more extensively than is already being done.

    This way, teachers and employers can get a more well-rounded view of why students give certain answers. “Why?” should appear on these TCEs to eliminate any ambiguity for both students giving feedback and professors receiving it.

    Shelby Thomas is a sophomore studying family studies and human development and Spanish. Follow her @shelbyalayne

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