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Some disadvantages of student feedback

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I'm following Alex Halavais blog who sometimes talks about student feedback of their lecturers. He's writing from New York in the USA (which is why student feedback is referred to as "student evaluations") but everything he says could apply to us in Setúbal.

He talks about the way your teaching practices don't count when it comes to joining the quadro:
In some places, and I’m sad to say my current institution is one of them, teaching doesn’t matter that much to tenure or promotion. There are some really excellent teachers, but they are excellent teachers in many ways in spite of the university. I’ve been told that the only way to have your teaching impact a tenure decision is if you bite the students. Another tenured faculty member said that students would have to picket the tenure proceedings in order for bad teaching to stop someone from getting tenure. In other words, excellent student evaluations don’t matter in my school. There is a move afoot to make evaluation reports more easily accessible to students, which I think will help them to choose classes more effectively. But if you are no good at teaching, you don’t mind if people decide not to take your classes.
And he reflects on the disadvantages of student feedback ("student evals.") and the ways the teacher, can maipulate them:
I have mixed feelings about student evals. I think they do roughly approximate the ability of the teacher. Unfortunately, I know exactly how to improve my evals. First, I raise the average grade in the class: there is a strong correlation between mean grade in a class and teacher evaluation. In fact, some schools (not UB) are now weighting these ratings by the average grade. That again raises problems, because in a small senior seminar or optional graduate class, I may have a dozen students, many of whom deserve the A. The efficacy of the class leads its evaluations to be discounted.
The other way I can improve ratings is to do something a faculty member at my graduate institution did, and build the evaluations into the syllabus, reminding students along the way the ways he was “effectively using information technology,” or “providing timely feedback.” Certainly, this “teaching to the test” in reverse probably led the course to do better in those categories, but he was also aiming (successfully) to manipulate his evaluations.
And then the question of when you do the feedback. How can students know now what will help them in the future?

The best suggestion I’ve heard—this from Tom Feeley, who has studied student evaluations, as well as from others—is that you give the student evaluations five years after the course is over. Yes, we tend to forget traumatic events as time passes ;) , but we also find that some of the teaching that we like at the time may not be the work that was really relevant to our lives and careers down the road. Deciding the worth of a class just before a looming final exam may not be the best timing.

Categories: Artifacts, Reflections


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