Teaching evaluations - are they even useful?!

i-75fa6f7cebb4145668724f37f5a52b36-steve_icon_medium.jpg So I'm teaching Psychology 100 this semester for the first time and part of the whole thing is that we're supposed to do certain things to get a graduate teaching certificate (which I think is the schools attempt at giving us grad students some teaching training as opposed to the norm of none). One of the requirements is to have a mid-term student and faculty evaluation and then write a little pageish thing on what it taught us. Here's mine... Hey if I have to do something I might as well make it entertaining ;)

What the midterm evaluation taught me.

1. Be specific with your language.

If you have a whole lot of foreign students who don't really understand the intricacies of your language things that you take for granted will be lost on them. If you write in your evaluation form, "Your instructor is...," They might just take you literally and write your name (the same goes for the text book title). This also made me realize that probably a full 90% of my humor is falling on deaf ears (no matter what country they are from. On the other hand if you cater to the person who only speaks basic English and can't understand the intricacies of the language the rest of the class will be bored so much so that they might decide that napping in class is a much better use of time than enjoying the lectures. I imagine that those who don't speak great English are also learning all sorts of interesting things about American culture.

2. Student evaluations are not that useful

I don't think people will actually be mean on an evaluation when they have to actually write something down as opposed to just choosing a number. Some of the comments are constructive, such as "slow down" or "more detail" but comments like "Steve is cool" or "Steve is a sharp dresser" only serves to stroke my already abnormally large ego and turn me into a raving egotistical teaching maniac who thinks his lectures and classroom/courtroom management skills are only equaled by Clarence Darrow. It would be really helpful if students could be prompted to be much more critical of me and my teaching style/skills. On the other hand one could wonder whether students really have any idea of what they actually need to do well and learn. Perhaps evaluations are not as useful for people who fool the class into thinking things by charisma alone as opposed to strict info only tutelage. Perhaps I should try to be more boring and see what happens?

3. Evaluations by an experienced instructor are ultimately more helpful than anything that can come from students.

I mean really, an experienced instructor isn't getting a grade from you and is in a different social position. It makes sense that they would be straight with you and have helpful ideas. When you dislike their comments it also makes you defend your own methods and figure out whether your own methods really make much sense to begin with. All in all I'm not sure I changed my teaching methods all that much from these rounds of evaluations - The most I'm learning about teaching is from the confused stares of the students when I try to explain the difference between two concepts that I barely understand the difference between. I think the next time around teaching and maybe even the next round of evaluations should really help me figure out what needs to improve since the things that obviously didn't work (that I totally know about) will be completely different.

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I'm an 8th grade teacher and I have students do anonymous evals about every month or so. I hate to admit it but probably 80% of the reason I do it is just so students feel like they have input. I definitely read them and take them into account but most of the time it's either "You're cool" or "You suck" which doesn't really help me either way. I definitely try each time to help them make constructive comments but I think part of the problem is that students aren't really taught to engage in (and in fact are actively discouraged) critical appraisals of teachers and schools.

You definitely want to pay attention to trends but I don't know how helpful any single comment has ever been.

I had a general education class which I did not like. I fell into the habit of coming in to lecture two or three minutes late. In the student evaluations, a majority of students commented unfavorably on my tardiness. I later read that a professor coming in five minutes early, and just hanging out, would lead to better class performance. I found this to be true.

It is almost universally true that some students will think the professor is incompetent and should be summarily dismissed, while others will rate the professor as the best they have ever encountered. The bulk of the class will be somewhere in between.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 13 Oct 2008 #permalink

I'll agree with JYB -- student evaluations are great for the single reason of the students are happy they have input. But if you do it for this reason you still have to acknowledge their input even if you do not change anything. ("Some of you said that the class was moving too slowly, but others think the pace is too fast, so I will keep it how it is.") Then they are less angry because they realize not every student agrees with them on something.

As for the utility of student evaluations, yes, of course an experienced professor would have more to say. However, the student evaluations can be helpful if you target the questions. If it's free-form response they are going to have nothing to say. But if you ask what they liked or did not like about specific assignments or lessons, they might have something to say. Think of how parents interact with a teenager. If they ask, "what did you do today?" the kid will say "nothing" or "I don't know." But if the parent asks, "how was soccer practice?" or "did you get to talk to your friend John today?" or something like that, the kid might actually say stuff. Not that I'm trying to patronize undergraduates, but I do think that targeted questions help a LOT. It's also good if you give them a lot of time to fill the crap out, because the people you most want to hear from are the types who write an essay on you (nerds like me...I'd always say a lot on those evaluations!) I did them online with surveymonkey so people had unlimited time.

By Katherine (not verified) on 13 Oct 2008 #permalink

I do wish we could get students to be more specific, and with regard to content, I find that profs rating you will give you better critiques. However, I am often told by some (older) profs that my speaking style is too colloquial and that I am too energetic, and that this will not earn me respect. But the students love my energy and say I'm the most entertaining teacher, and they learned a lot because they were so interested. I wonder whether I need to find a middle ground, or whether I should just dismiss the old white profs.

While evaluations from more experienced profs may help with teaching style, the students can tell you whether you keep their attention or not.

One of the best teachers in my department is entertaining and still knows how to convey the knowledge students need. Even if you are interested in the material, a prof who is presenting with little enthusiasm will put me to sleep. If the prof presents too much too quickly, I will get flustered because I do not have time to process what was just said before the prof moves on to the next topic. This is where students may be of more help because the experienced prof may not know their background coming into the class.

Granted, especially in intro-level classes the students have often not done the reading before class as they were supposed to. I haven't figured out how to handle that yet. I want to teach assuming they read the book, but if I do they get frustrated because I expect them to recognize things they haven't seen.

Student evaluations are like polls--ask stupid, open-ended, badly designed questions, and all you'll get back is junk. Ask focused questions (`did you take notes? if you did, did you study from your notes?') to get quality feedback. Tailor your questionnaire for each class if you are actually interested in the practices of your students in regard to your class.

In my experience the in loco parentis patrician attitude of instructors increased with class size and deminished attendence. I was that buy up front on the instructor's left who keep asking questions and challenging what was being assumed.

I rarely took notes and when I did, I rarely studied them. I found that the more logical the lecture, the less notes I had to take.

My worst instructor was in sociology who turned the class into a primer for Marxism. His lectures were irrelevant and nonsensical. I now claim that the note-taking evolves into rote memorization with the use of a tap recorder instead of pencil and paper.

Of course, that was three decades ago and I feel such instructors are a waste of time. I would stand up and walk out on them the first day, now. If you are of that ilk, go write your paper for your doctorate, your first book, or anything to stay clear of honest scholars.

By John Lloyd Scharf (not verified) on 14 Oct 2008 #permalink

John Lloyd most likely has an unresolved issue with a poor grade brought about by unreplaced batteries in his tape recorder. Rather than having a specific issue with you, personally, it would appear that he is tilting at the broader windmill of sociology, which as a verifiable, emprical science is unsustainable, and constitutes a veritable wasteland s far as disciplines go -- if anything that vague can be termed a discipline. Take it from a a sociology major, some thirty-odd years removed. In a tepid defense of the field as a whole, however, it may be posited that Marxism was, arguably, the first real, broad-scale marginally corroborative experiment in gauging group human behavior; therefore, it is not surprising that it gets so much play in first and second-year sociology texts. For kicks and giggles, and to make it seem that this semiformal analysis of social trends has existed for far longer than it really has, scholars throw in liberal doses of de Tocqueville, Durkheim, Hegel, Weber, and later, Mead, to thicken this insipid broth, though not to any significantly palatable degree.

To be truthful, most of my sociology professors were self-professed Marxists, as well -- confirmed in their proletarian beliefs, though not in the least ashamed to take a handsome salary from an eastern, elitist, and eminently well-endowed liberal arts college -- and were unutterably boring and unapologetically dreary in their delivery.

The bottom line remains, whether you're expounding on symbolic interactionism or why 'shrooms tend to thrive in an environment of nitrogenous bovine waste matter, you'd best know whereof you speak, and be entertaining in the process. Otherwise, you kindle no spark or invite healthy discourse, which of course are the principal aims of enlightenment. A sense of humor helps, both in the delivery and the reception of information. A firm grasp of the language, and an attention span longer than an inter-commercial Family Guy segment, also aid in the understanding, absorption, and retention of the material.

Keep up the good work, Steve. Teachers who inspire without resorting to pedantry are worth their weight in gold. And that's about as close to being an honest scholar as one can get.

By A fossil from … (not verified) on 21 Oct 2008 #permalink

I am a psychology student and to be honest i hate doing the teaching evaluations. I understand that they are important to develop the lecturer's skills but at our university they are always timed really badly. We always have to do them in our last lecture, when i really couldn't care about anythign more than finishing classes for the year. Also, we are always given them to do during our breaks, when i could be catching up with friends and asking them about how they did on their assignment, so whenever i see the question, "what are the lecturer's weaknesses/what could they improve?". I can never think of anything to suggest. And because we only have a 10 min break, i don't put much thought into it, so i usually end up writing nothing.

This is a shame because later on when i am thinking about the course, i always think of suggestions i could have written.

So i would like to see more specific questions on the evaluations. For example, ask questions about things you want to hear feedback on. Like, "What improvements could be made about the lecturer's style of teaching/ the information they provided during lectures". This will trigger the student's memory on things they have feedback on, which will prevent them from writing lame comments about your clothes.

One of our lectures this semester had a great idea which i used to provide feedback. He set up an anonymous forum where students could progressively leave comments about the course and his teaching over the 13 weeks that the course lasted. I thought this was great, because i would leave comments about the course as i thought of them, which is better than trying to remember all of the criticisms i had righ at the end of the semester. The forum was extensively used and there were some great comments on there!

I am a psychology student and to be honest i hate doing the teaching evaluations. I understand that they are important to develop the lecturer's skills but at our university they are always timed really badly. We always have to do them in our last lecture, when i really couldn't care about anythign more than finishing classes for the year. Also, we are always given them to do during our breaks, when i could be catching up with friends and asking them about how they did on their assignment, so whenever i see the question, "what are the lecturer's weaknesses/what could they improve?". I can never think of anything to suggest. And because we only have a 10 min break, i don't put much

if anything that vague can be termed a discipline. Take it from a a sociology major, some thirty-odd years removed. In a tepid defense of the field as a whole, however, it may be posited that Marxism was, arguably, the first real, broad-scale marginally corroborative experiment in gauging group human behavior; therefore, it is not surprising that it gets so much play in first and second-year sociology texts. For kicks and giggles, and to make it seem that this semiformal analysis of social trends has existed for far longer than it really has, scholars throw in liberal doses of de Tocqueville, Durkheim, Hegel, Weber, and later, Mead, to thicken this insipid broth, though not to any significantly palatable degree.

we'll i am no scientist, physicist etc. I am a writer, a fantasy writer. I have studied different religions and i studied some facts about multiverse theory