Thursday, September 22, 2016

Student evaluations of teaching

The most interesting thing about this article on the apparent worthlessness of student evaluations of teaching is the word 'even' in the sentence: "Yet conventional wisdom remains that students learn best from highly rated instructors; tenure cases have even hinged on it." 

Good student evaluations supposedly used to count against people at one research-focused university I heard about, being thought to indicate bad priorities. But at most colleges that emphasize teaching, i.e. that don't emphasize research, I would be very surprised if good teaching evaluations weren't the single most important factor in tenure decisions

Also worth noting is this comment:   
the majority of faculty are now off of the tenure track and these teachers are often evaluated only by students evaluations. This labor situation gives these faulty mechanisms incredible power and creates defensive teaching and a lack of academic freedom.


  1. the customer is always right, wait until they get realt-time reviews of lectures up and going on social media...

    1. Ugh. But yes, the consumer model is far more prevalent than the "even tenure can depend on popularity with students" line suggests.

    2. they are likely deeply related especially in the humanities (in the sciences there is pressure to come with grants) as a sign of return on investment, is there any evidence that admin is moved by such studies?

    3. Not that I know of. The admin at my school--the only one I know much about--cares about teaching, but I don't think anyone has a very good idea how to measure it. And (not talking about any school in particular) I strongly suspect that student evaluations are the default that people fall back on. Evidence that they are meaningless isn't likely to change much in the absence of an attractive alternative.

    4. "Evidence that they are meaningless isn't likely to change much in the absence of an attractive alternative" yeah that seems to have the kernel of something that professors seem to have largely missed, evidence/logic alone doesn't win the day