Monday, November 10, 2014

ASU students should take course evaluations seriously. From The State Press.

The most important components of a good university are its educational quality and faculty. Institutions do their best to upgrade their courses, staff and facilities based on educational requirements and industry standards.

However, the best reviewers of any course are its students. Students are aware of a course’s details and are therefore able to provide a comprehensive list of issues they faced; this forms the basis of course evaluations. All college students should acknowledge how much they can lead to the improvement of the entire educational structure.

The Rest.


  1. I love evaluation season. It's a great time to recycle unread paper.

  2. This article is at least well-written. The scary part is that the writer expresses the same notions as administrators. He's too young to be so well trained so he must have been born that way.

    1. Indeed! I thought to myself, hmm, a Dean's child wrote this. Know it all to know it all. Oh, I shouldn't say that about all Deans. Mine, yes, but not all.

  3. I am starting to warm up to the memes.

  4. "However, the best reviewers of any course are its students."
    - Citation needed.

    "Students are aware of a course’s details"
    -- Demonstrably untrue, given that some of them cannot recall simple facts when tested under controlled conditions.

    " and are therefore able to provide a comprehensive list of issues they faced"
    -- Issues the students faced are not neccessarily correlated with things the instructor has control over. Examples: high school preperation, expectations for workload, alcohol consumption, etc

    -- "this forms the basis of course evaluations."
    Again, demonstrably untrue. Note that good-looking professors and professors that bring food to class are ranked highly. Thus, students are unwilling or unable to judge their own influences on the score.

    "All college students should acknowledge how much they can lead to the improvement of the entire educational structure."
    -- Prove it.

  5. I agree that students should take evaluations more seriously. That doesn't mean that I'll take them more seriously.

  6. I had a student last term complain that I gave them points back on an assignment. My reviewing their work and letting them use critical thinking to show me where they met criteria to the assignment meant I "didn't pay attention and didn't know what I was doing." Now if I had just told them to eff off they still would have complained.

  7. Most of my evaluations consisted of comments along the lines of:

    - "Dr. Vertical is incompetent"
    - "Dr. Vertical's exams are too hard and ask questions on material we didn't cover"
    - "Dr. Vertical isn't fair"
    - "Dr. Vertical doesn't make proper use of the textbook"
    - "Fire Dr. Vertical immediately"

    This, of course, provided fodder for my detractors in the administration that this was ample proof that I was a lousy instructor. Yet, those same detractors couldn't be bothered to sit in on my lectures and see for themselves if what was written about me was indeed true.

    Years later, I had an interview for a university transfer program at a junior college. I was asked what I thought about student evaluations. Since I endured years of comments like those I mentioned, I concluded that the students didn't take them seriously, thereby making the whole process useless.

    I said that to the interviewing committee and, by doing that, I torpedoed any chances at getting the job, slim though they were. I dared tell them that I wasn't "with the program".

    1. I also got this treatment, with my incompetent idiot department Chair ignoring every good student evaluation, and yelling at me for every bad student evaluation since he clearly assumed every word of it was true. I wanted to shake him and scream, "DIDN'T YOU EVER HAVE KIDS?!?"

  8. When I was in high school, people with undergraduate degrees judged me.
    When I was in college, people with doctoral degrees judged me.
    When I was in graduate school, national class researchers judged me.

    Now I am judged by people with a high school diploma.

  9. A student who vanished in the second week of term has just let me know that she is planning to catch up in the next few days and rejoin the class. She is guaranteed to fail. She has missed two major assignments that can't be made up, all of the quizzes, and most important,she hasn't learned any of the material.and she will be writing an evaluation of the class. Proof, or any needed, that my decision years ago never to read the comments again was fully justified.

  10. It is, indeed, better-written, or at least better-argued*, than most student pieces on the subject. If students put more thought into filling out evaluations, as the author urges them to do, we'd be better off (whether we'd be even better off if the evaluations were eliminated or at least significantly revised is another question).

    However, one of the examples the author uses illustrates a fundamental flaw in her** argument, and in the current format and use of student evaluations. She writes: "While providing your assessment, you may consider certain things unimportant and tend to omit them, like a large number of students in the class or the unavailability of workstations in the lab." There are two problems with this point: (1) there's no place on any student evaluation form that I've seen, apart from the written comments, which few administrators beyond the chair level ever see, to say anything about the effect of factors such as class size or classroom facilities on the student's experience (some evaluations for online courses do ask students to evaluate the technology, but even that is usually focused on the instructor's use of technology), and (2) very few if any professors have much control over their course size, or the facilities available in their classrooms. But course evaluations are used primarily to evaluate professors, not, as this student apparently assumes, the overall educational experience as created not only by the professor but also the entire institutional context. Course evaluations do, of course, often measure that larger experience, but they're used almost exclusively to evaluate instructors. It's the higher ed equivalent of using student test scores to evaluate K-12 students, with no attention to the context in which teachers and students are working.

    So I guess I'd say that she makes some good points, but she seems to be working from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role evaluations play in higher ed institutions.

    *My main problems with the writing are the periodic shifts into passive voice -- usually, not surprisingly, when the author is talking about who does what with evaluations after students finish writing them -- and some infelicitous wording, e.g. "Higher education yearns to enrich them with knowledge and satisfy their eager brains" (higher education, which is an institution or possibly a concept but definitely not a being, cannot "yearn," and, though brain science is admittedly advancing rapidly, I'm not sure one can accurately characterize a brain as either (un)satisfied or eager. Besides, the sentence is simply overwritten in a (failed) attempt to convey the urgency and importance of the goal.)

    **The author is definitely female (see note about her twitter handle), and, according to the list of other columns she's written, an international student. That might explain some of the linguistic formations I objected to above (but/and perhaps also some of the strength of the argumentation; I'm guessing she studied in a British-style educational system, which provides a lot more practice with essay-writing than the current American one), and her lack of understanding of how evaluations are actually used (not that I think our native-born students have a clue about that, either).

  11. Students often overestimate the effect that evaluations have. While I was teaching, I knew of two cases where they decided to conduct evaluations on their own.

    In one case, they swindled an unwitting department head into helping them by giving them the forms, claiming that their instructor (who was teaching a service course to that same department) had asked them to get them.

    In the other case, the forms were sent directly to one of the institute's vice-presidents as "evidence" that the instructor in question should be dismissed. The only action that was taken by that VP, or one of his staff members, was to forward it to the computing department for processing.

    Neither case, however, was investigated to any great extent nor were any students ever reprimanded even though what they did was clearly a breach of regulations.