Wednesday, April 13, 2016

RYS Flashback: Ten Years Ago This Week.

Someone Wants to Talk About the Correlation of Easy Profs and Good Evaluations

I began teaching 3 years ago at a mid-sized undergraduate college. It's amazing how much I've changed in that amount of time and what I've learned regarding human behavior.

Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who worry too much about my evaluations. It's not that I really care what college students think of me, it's just that I work very hard to be a good and fair teacher, and I get frustrated when students don't see that. Besides, student evaluations are the primary indication of teaching ability at our school.

I also get annoyed by the correlation between good and easy when students rate professors on student evaluations or on Rate My Professor. When I read comments like "XXX is the best professor at XXXX. It's impossible to make less than an A. Exams are the study guides. I wish all teachers were this good," I get frustrated.

My classes are particularly challenging due to the subject matter. I do what I can to make the material as clear as possible. But, no wonder students sometimes say negative things about me on my evaluations....not everyone makes an A in my courses and you have to work particularly hard in order to do well. How can I compete with other professors who give out grades like they are nothing?

Just once, I'd like to see one of these 'good because they're easy' professors get a comment like, "What's the point of this class? I do not have to go to class or study to make an A. I have learned nothing new since taking this course.... what a waste of time!"

16 comments:

  1. My profs never gave a shit about evaluations. The profs I mentor now care about them more than anything else. The former group taught material and the latter try to entertain and please.

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  2. Yuri From YoungstownApril 13, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    It's a continuing problem. Students rate easy classes as the best classes. I see it as an administrator and as a professor. I firmly believe that my students won't actually know the value of my classes until 5-10 years later. But we continue to ask 19 year olds about whether our faculty are any good or not, and it's complete bullshit.

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    1. Amen. While it surely has some value, regarding it as anything other than complete bullshit could lull admin into a complacency that prevents them from engaging the issue in a substantitive way.

      In business, "keep the customer satisfied" and "the customer is always right" are attitudes that simply help you to get the customers to give you money. In education, the customer is wrong (i.e., uneducated) and sometimes must be challenged, not satisfied. Ideally, any system of student evaluation of teaching should be designed to look as unlike a "customer satisfaction survey" as possible.

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    2. Exactly! They're thinking short-term - a 15 week semester window. A couple of our students complained to the dean that my department wasn't doing its job since any job interviews they had that had a technical component to them ended poorly. They took the easy guy in my department for as many courses as possible, got high grades and learned little. Correlation?

      They actually admitted to the dean that the proffie is a joke, but is a great guy. I think both are true. They were utterly incapable of realizing that by doing little work, they were learning little and wouldn't be ready for a technical interview. And that morphed into my whole department not doing its job.

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  3. I have always wanted to try out an experiment: the next time I have multiple sections of one course I will make one section easier than the rest (easier exams, more partial credit, grade on a curve, etc.) and compare the reviews I get for each section. Granted the classes may be at different times of the day (8am classes never get good reviews), but still an interesting idea.

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    1. The students in the two sections will probably compare exams and notes and such. You may find that a student will ask to sit in on the other section on a given day due to some sort of conflict (or wanting to sleep in...). They'll know what's going on and you'll get roasted for it, I fear.

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  4. In my experience, evals have little application. I don't care if students think I have a sense of humor or how legible my handwriting is on the board (it's very legible, and they never take notes any way). As long as they rate me high on knowing my subject... that's the only thing I care about.

    I've found that students seem to equate the prof liking them with doing well, and of course I don't know them well enough to say I like them or not. I do like work that is well done, however. So students who feel slighted have no hesitation to lie. One semester, I was late to class ONCE and I was 3 minutes late. One student wrote that I was 20 minutes late to every class. Another student questioned the worth of the subject matter I was teaching (something they were not qualified to question; I was providing historical context for a better understanding of contemporary concepts). They say you show favoritism (but they never ask a question or come to see you after class or during office hours). I come in the weekend before finals to provide help to students finalizing their projects. Yet students will complain I'm not accessible.

    Basically, it's mostly meaningless. How did I deal with it? Well, come the time of year when we had to write a report on what we'd accomplished (this included copies of our evals)... I chose ONE thing to comment on and I wrote a 1-2 page statement that prefaced the evals. This showed the higher-ups that I was reflecting on my teaching. This seemed to satisfy everyone. The higher-ups were happy and they left me alone.

    And I admit, as time went on, I just stopped reading evals altogether.

    I'd love a similar system whereby faculty could (anonymously) do evals on students and these evals would follow the students into their future life.

    Academaniac

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    1. Alice the AdjunctApril 13, 2016 at 3:10 PM

      I agree with this notion, but my student evaluations absolutely impact whether I get hired or not next term. I teach math at a community college part-time. The one and only crank who kept the standards up, got one warning for low evaluations and was never hired again, despite the fact that everyone in the department, even the few full timers, knew he was outstanding. If you got a kid who went through his intro course, that student could do EVERYTHING. Now he's been replaced by a cool math guy who is one of those Krispy Kreme donut guy on Fridays.

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  5. I feel your pain, Alice. At my institution, adjuncts need to get an average of 3.5 (on a 5-point scale) on their evaluations to be hired back the following semester. In practice, it's not too hard to achieve this, but they live in fear, and there seems to be constant pressure form student to keep lowering standards. I am trying to find a way to fight against this as a tenured ally. There are obviously many reasons for doing so, but it affects all of us who teach higher level courses (that students are unprepared for because they were taught in intro level courses by instructors dependent on their customer satisfaction ratings) and all of us who try to maintain high standards (which we then pay for in our own course evals). BTW, can someone tell me if I said up a google alias, does that become my google identity across platforms? What's the best way to get an actual ID?

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    1. I think you will be logged in as that identity for all Google products until you log out.

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    2. You can also use a private/incognito browser window for your CM activities, and it will not interfere with a "regular" browser window in which you've logged into your "real-life" GMail account (assuming that's what you have).

      At home I often use Chrome for real-life email, Firefox for my "OPH" identity in GMail/Google/Blogger. Being logged into Blogger saves me from having to retype an alias for each comment here, and I like being able to compose my comments as a GMail draft, which I copy/paste into the comment box here.

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  6. Geez, sorry for the typos. It didn't submit the first time because I selected the wrong "comment as" option, so I had to retype, and I guess I was in too much of a hurry.

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    1. Instead of choosing anonymous, choose name/url and just type in a user name you plan to use consistently. You can leave the URL blank empty. (Though some wiseacres enter a funny link ad an inside joke! And who was it who used wiseacre on the site recently. I am saying it in class now!)

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  7. Pennsylvania PennyApril 14, 2016 at 3:10 AM

    I don't remember where I first read it—possibly on this very site, or one of its predecessors—but it went something like this:

    "When I was in grade school, I was evaluated by people with bachelor's degrees.

    "When I was in high school, I was evaluated by people with master's degrees.

    "When I was in college and in grad school, I was evaluated by people with doctorates.

    "Now I have a doctorate of my own, and I'm being evaluated by people with high-school diplomas."

    An undergraduate is simply in no position to judge whether course material is "important" or "relevant"—it's the instructor's job to decide that. An undergraduate can't possibly tell "how well the instructor knows the material"—that's for someone else who knows the material equally well (i.e., a departmental colleague) to judge. Students can reasonably be asked whether the material is presented clearly, whether the instructor is accessible and fair (although unfortunately those concepts are open to abuse), and whether they've learned what the course objectives led them to expect they would learn.

    What I'm trying to say, in brief, is that student evaluations tend to ask the wrong questions of the wrong people. It's no wonder nobody's satisfied with the answers.

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    1. I haven't been able to find the post with those exact words, but I do remember reading something very much like it here, in the not too distant past. If it wasn't here per se, then it was linked from here.

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    2. Pennsylvania PennyApril 17, 2016 at 4:54 AM

      "Linked from here" sounds right. And yes, it wasn't very long ago.

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