Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do They Know It When They See It?

This post continues with the theme of Teaching Evaluations.

As I've mentioned before, I write not only from the point of view of someone who is evaluated by students for my own classes but also as someone who, in the course of serving on various committees, has spent much time poring over other professor's teaching evaluations. In addition, I team-teach with various faculty, so I see them in action in the classroom once or twice a week for a term, and then compare notes with them later when we see our teaching evaluations.

Teaching evaluations are flawed in many ways and should be viewed carefully, but most students know a disorganized instructor when they see one. A large number of consistent negative comments about technical issues such as a professor's lack of organization during class, missed office hours, classes that go way over the scheduled time, assignments that are turned back very late (or never), and other logistical issues are surely accurate.

I doubt, however, that students can accurately evaluate a professor's level of knowledge, the depth of a professor's interest in being a good teacher and, in some cases, whether a professor means to be as rude as he/she seems.

I do not doubt that there are unambiguous cases of professors being rude and insulting to students. Professors who are deliberately rude to students should face negative consequences for this destructive behavior.

But consider these examples:

I team-teach with a professor who cares about teaching and who treats students with respect. He is not, however, a warm and nurturing person. His lectures are clear, he welcomes questions from students during class and answers all questions in a serious way, he conveys interesting and important information during lectures, and he gives exams and assignments that are fair and relevant to the material presented in class. Is he considered a good professor? Not really. Each term, there are comments in student evaluations that he is "unapproachable" and "arrogant". He gets comments about how just because he is so smart doesn't give him the right to look down on students. I can see how students would find him fierce in some ways, but I have been attending his lectures for years and have never seen him be rude to a student or discourage 'stupid' questions. And he works very well with undergraduate students in his research group. He hates reading his teaching evaluations at the end of each term because it is such a demoralizing experience. Why can't students see through the frowns and appreciate the atmosphere of learning and respect? To me, this is a prime example of flaws in the current system of student evaluation of teaching.

And here is an example of a student who interpreted insulting behavior where there was none: A failing student came to my office to talk about her grade. She was extremely upset, near tears, and convinced there was nothing she could do to get a passing grade. I showed her that her grade to date was within range of passing if she passed the final, or even if she showed improvement over her other exams, and I offered to go over the review questions and sample exam with her, question by question, in person or by email. She did not take me up on this offer, nor did her attendance in class improve. In my teaching evaluations, this student (who provided enough identifying and specific information in her comment so that she was the only possible person who could have written it) wrote that she was extremely insulted by how rude I was to her. Her evidence: When she was so upset about the possibility of failing the class, I smiled at her. My smile indicated that I thought it was funny that she was failing and that I was happy that she would fail. She was outraged about this. I should be fired etc. etc. I suspect that many professors have similar stories.

The difference between these two stories is that, in the first case, there is a consistent pattern of criticism. In the second, the student's negative comment was a hostile outlier in an otherwise positive batch of evaluations. Hostile outliers are painful to read, but they are easier to ignore than the other kind, which can look convincing if they persist over time.

I see many hostile outliers in other professors' teaching evaluations. Unless there are many negative reviews with specific comments, many of us who are professors who evaluate teaching performance, in part by examining teaching evaluations, don't consider the hostile ones as significant.

If there is a consistent pattern, we need more information, and we typically have more information -- in the form of peer evaluations, which tend to be quite comprehensive. Also, in cases where there is a clear lack of respect, there are typically many specific anecdotes. In the case of consistent comments along the lines of "He/she was intimidating" but nothing more specific, it's quite possible that the professor has not done anything overtly disrespectful to the students.

I am already anticipating my teaching evaluations for this term. Overall my classes went well (says me), but there was one student with whom I had a persistent communication problem that bordered on the bizarre at times. Another student in another class was sullen and angry the entire term; apparently not because of anything specific to me or the class, but who knows?

Do others anticipate negative comments from students after a particular incident or conversation? I wish I didn't, but it's hard not to.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if a lot of students all say that the professor is rude and arrogant? Does that count as being more objective since it's a consistent observation so surely not the product of one disgruntled student's misperception?

Anonymous said...

", but I have been attending his lectures for years and have never seen him be rude to a student or discourage 'stupid' questions"

But has he tried to be more approachable? I would be curious to hear if he has attempted to improve his approachability. Are people excessively intimidated and avoiding his office hours? That is part of teaching is it not?

I can think of one professor whose input I would really like on one project and who even politely agreed to talk to me about it, but something about his response seemed insincere and I could not go through with emailing him and setting up a time (he is an esp. busy and well-known prof) - and I am a grad student who is not usually shy. And yes, it did leave me with a bit of a resentful feeling (though not enough that I would mention it in an eval, but maybe as an undergrad who had fewer alternative resources I might).

I don't think he wanted to talk to me, even though he was very polite. Even though that is probably the case in most situations, making the effort to at least appear interested and concerned, even if the effort is not completely successful, somehow makes a difference. Outward 'respect' doesn't completely cover it. Hope this makes sense. And at the same time not every professor has to be good at everything, I'm just pointing out that maybe the students are on to something.

Anonymous said...

Brings to mind my undergraduate experience. It was the course where we were expected to get our heads around Maxwell's Equations for the first time. The lecturer, eminent in this field (pun intended!) had about 20 lectures to cover the material, and became visibly impatient when questions revealed the lack of comprehension one or two lectures back.

We complained to the head of department, who was very understanding and tried to get to the root of the problem. I.E. "Does he go too fast?" etc. But our student rep just laid in with "He's rubbish..." and there was no constructive outcome.

Anonymous said...

I've thought a lecturer was overtly harsh and his classes were very difficult but the truth was, he was a great teacher and very helpful if you just asked...maybe the theoretical physical chemistry that he taught was the intimidating part rather than the lecturer himself.

Anonymous said...

In our evaluations, students are asked whether they feel they learned "skills or knowledge useful for their future career" on the course. I have always wondered how the hell do they expect the students to know this.

Hope said...

I agree with your general point that teaching evals of profs by students have limited use, especially when it comes to the examples you cited: …level of knowledge, the depth of a professor's interest in being a good teacher and, in some cases, whether a professor means to be as rude as he/she seems.

However, it cuts both ways, no? What do profs like you think when they read evals that extol how much a prof knows, or what a great job they did presenting the material? Or even, how much a student learned in a particular class? Do students really know the material well enough to be able to gauge these things? How easy is it to fool a student by “teaching to the eval,” as some in former threads claim that they must do? Or forget fool – I think that some students have no problem whatsoever giving a prof a good eval as long as they think they’ll get a good grade in the class. (I’ve always thought that course evals should contain a question along the lines of: What is your expected grade in this class? Then it would be interesting to observe the correlations between this, the tenor of the eval overall, and the student’s actual grade. But I digress….)

Finally, if most profs who evaluate tenure candidates are aware of the limitations of student course evals, are asst. profs really justified in “teaching to the eval,” or is this just an excuse from people who don’t really care that much about teaching in the first place?

Anonymous said...

you can go to ratemyprofessors.com to see if your students have been posting teaching evaluations of you. And if you don't like their evaluations, you can post rebuttals or upload videos of you rebutting them on "Professors Strike Back"
(video.ratemyprofessors.com)

I watched some of the rebuttal videos from professors and they were quite cutting!! I found this site quite entertaining (and it makes me glad I didn't become a professor as I don't envy you for having to put up with students with bad attitudes much less be 'evaluated' by them!)

Anonymous said...

Our course evaluations are based on questions "rate on a scale of 1-5....." and some free text responses. I never look at the former results as the sheets are fed into a scanner and Boltzmann distributions are produced invariably for each Q with an average between 3 or 4. (i.e. for every answer that is positive there is likely one counterbalancing it).

Of the free text questions, the only one I seriously look at is "how can the course be improved". In most cases the comments are the same as "what was the worst thing about the course". But just once in a while you get a comment where you think, hey that IS a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in finding out how evaluations are done in other institutions. Paper or web- based questionnaires always seem to produce a range of responses which just average out (unless you are a really good or bad teacher). Also students tend to acquire rapidly "questionniare fatigue" (in my opinion) and the reponses are poorly thought out.

One dept in my Uni "trains" class reps to chair end of semester discussions. These meetings are held in the absence of the tutor and produce not an average (above) but a consensus result produced by proper discussion. Outlier responses can be clearly seen as such. As our evaluations are evaluated by "those higher up the food chain" a negative comment can have implications for promotion or pay rises.

amy said...

This is a really helpful post. I talk to colleagues about evaluations, but nobody I know has experience with reading lots of other people's evaluations and with team teaching. Also, most people I talk to just dismiss teaching evaluations entirely, instead of recognizing that they can be accurate in some ways.

Over the years I've become a lot less sensitive to the occasional hostile evaluation, but I got one last year that pissed me off. I teach in a red state, with lots of fundamentalist students, and we cover some controversial topics like abortion. I work very hard to promote an atmosphere of open discussion, and I stay as neutral as I can through our debates, trying to point out the strengths and weaknesses of all arguments. But I got an evaluation saying that I had "shut down" this student's Christian views, so he stopped participating halfway through the semester. I know who it was -- a student who had been talking endlessly, quoting long passages from the Bible, and going off on tangents to the point that the class was getting way behind on the syllabus. I did stop him several times, and told him we didn't have time to continue the discussion. But he interpreted this as an attack on his religion.

Anonymous said...

On the flip side - how many students report that a professor is an excellent teacher because they are seen as friendly or entertaining in front of the classroom. Good evaluations often don't reflect student learning either. I've worked with education professors enough to see the alternative explanation for many student comments. I.e. "teacher knows the subject" = "teacher expresses confidence"; "I learned a lot in this class" = "I was able to memorize all the required facts (at least until the exam)". There are particular problems when students learn critical thinking skills - because they can't quantify them as something they learned, students often think they haven't learned anything. In fact, those skills are far more valuable long-term than a bunch of unretained facts.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

He hates reading his teaching evaluations at the end of each term because it is such a demoralizing experience.

Then why the fuck does he read them? I read the teaching evaluations my first term of teaching and, realizing immediately that they were a completely valueless form of feedback on my teaching, haven't read a single fucking one of them since then.

niewiap said...

My general experience is that students in the US are extremely needy and whiny. So what if the professor is intimidating? Just study the fucking material, pass your fucking exam and get the fuck out of my class if you don't like my attitude. It's a different sort of a problem, like you said, if a professor actually cannot teach, is disorganized or overtly rude. But going out of your way to be kind and respectful to students? FUCK YOU! I am twice your age (or more) and have on average about 10000x more knowledge and experience than your sorry freshman ass - you should be respectful towards me and not the other way around. You can shove your evaluations up your fucking ass!

Anonymous said...

It's even worse if one is like your team teacher, but female.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, if you have a problem with a student during class, it will reflect in your teaching evaluations. I am female and in my first year of teaching, when I didn't show enough confidence most likely, I had a student who was persistently aggressive to me, even bullying. That put me in defensive, and although I always answered his questions meant to put me in a difficult situation well, the evaluations were quite bad bc/ of the image this permanent confrontation created and my defensive demeanor. The guy would contradict me aggresively and with arrogance, no matter what I said. If I showed a graph from a book, he would say he doesn't believe is correct and I had to defend it although it was textbook information, not my research. It went like that constantly, every class period. Another student once confronted the bully in class, but it wasn't enough. It was a nightmare. So I came to the conclusion that if you don't show confidence, maybe a little arrogance, they may bully you and you are in trouble. Since then, my evaluations improved tremendously, but I don't think I am smarter or teach much better:) In fact I spend close to nothing on class prep now, of course I have the notes. But I teach to evaluations now and show confidence. I'm using different techniques, you could call them manipulation. However, usually I have one or two outliners who don't like me and make completely false comments. For example, I canceled class once in the winter, bc/ of snow. It was an early morning class and the streets didn't get cleaned in time for me or them to make it. This became "she always cancels class" in the outliner's evaluation :P Another time, I had to participate for 2 weeks in a course that was mandatory for one of my grants. Let them know in advance, from the beginning, and scheduled it during their in class presentations, evaluated by the TA instead of myself. It was a backlash for that, as I expected. "why do I need to attend if she doesn't". I didn't teach this class worse than previous year, but the evals were slightly lower bc/ of this. And I knew they would be. So I guess is often a matter of image.

Anonymous said...

I thought my new course was going pretty well this semester, but last week one of my students told me he thought I was courageous for trying to teach such a novel, innovative course. Courageous? Novel? Innovative? Now I'm a little worried.

Michael Hultström said...

Don't forget that students are very loyal to eachother and will be outraged on behalf of others in their course. I know of several occasions where usually well accepted teachers were completely destroyed in the evaluations because this.

There are also quite a variation between classes. Some years the students have a more positive out-look on their studies. Other years they are more skeptical and give lower scores on average than the classes before or after.

I do think evaluations are of use though, but maybe mostly for the individual teacher. For evaluation of teaching ability I would look more on how the teacher works to decrease specific criticism in the evaluations and how successful they are in that. Otherwise you kind of have to compare between all teachers on a course and between classes of different years to get an unbiased impression.

Consistently bad evaluations is another situation, but in my experience it is very, very, rare.

Anonymous said...

Your comment about students not appreciating professors who they see as arrogant or distant reminds me a bit about the research on the affect of doctors' manners on the number/size/something like that of malpractice suits (That being, 'nice' doctors get sued less) Sorry, don't have a reference for it, but I don't think I imagined this.

Anonymous said...

I had a student come up to me during an exam to ask a question on a problem. It was the same question someone else had asked, and I provided the same answer that this is info they are expected to know and I can't help them (politely, and the first student said 'ok' and walked away politely). She responded (hostilely) with "well, it would be nice if you tested us on things you actually taught us". >95% of the class got that problem 100% correct, so I'm comfortable that I taught it well enough.. looking forwarded to her eval knowing she can be that rude in person.

Mark said...

Thank you for the insightful commentary on student evaluations. In my ~6 years teaching I have seen the entire range of comments. I too am anticipating this semester's evaluations and anticipate that I will again struggle with the negative outliers and occasional notions that I am intimidating. I admit that it is challenging for me to comprehend how my enthusiasm for teaching and the material is perceived as intimidating.

I have become cautiously optimistic about the student evaluation process, taking seriously suggestions directed at improving effectiveness. My first Dept. Chair encouraged me to read the evaluations with "a grain of salt and a glass of wine", a sentiment that I try to keep in mind after each semester.

Anonymous said...

"I see many hostile outliers in other professors' teaching evaluations. Unless there are many negative reviews with specific comments, many of us who are professors who evaluate teaching performance, in part by examining teaching evaluations, don't consider the hostile ones as significant."

I also serve on various committees that look at teaching evaluations. Unlike FSP, I only look at the 2 sigma (2nd standard deviation) of comments written by students (both positive and hostile). I find that this is very effective in evaluating how passionate students view their professors. Generally, if students think the professor did okay, they will not give a thoughtful review.

Anonymous said...

Just because a prof's intention is not to be rude or arrogant, does not mean it is OK if many students feel this way. They should try to alter their behavior in such a way as to not 'come off' rude. Teaching is a social experience and some professors need to work on their social skills.

aceon said...

Last year I got consistent complaints that surprised me. I kept the grading scale that a previous professor used for a class. The cutoff for an A was 92, which outraged the students since apparently 90 is an A, no matter what. Of course, nobody mentioned it during the class, but probably half the students complained about in their evaluations. This was especially annoying to me since I bumped up anyone who was borderline anyway.

FrauTech said...

I remember one of the professors I left negative evaluations for...during class he tended to write long, wordy definitions on the board, and rarely go over examples. After quizzes he'd chastise the whole class for doing poorly and even said something to the effect of, "I've considered that it might be my teaching. But I've decided it's not." ? How does a professor decide the 300 students in his class are really all the problem in learning and it can have nothing to do with his teaching. This was the same professor who when I went to his office hours was doing something on his computer the whole time and acted agitated that I was there, only quickly answering my questions and going back to his computer. I understand maybe he had a research deadline he was trying to reach or some other obligation, but if that was the case he should have cancelled or rescheduled his office hours. It's not like I showed up at some random time or anything. Sometimes I think fellow professors miss these patterns, because you already know the material you aren't necessarily listening to the lecture with fresh ears like a student who is trying to learn for the first time. Not to mention liking someone personally can often blind one to their faults. Oh and this guy was co-chair of our department, so obviously he had a lot of people's respect.

Anonymous said...

My experience is that consistent negative student feedback indicates something is wrong but often not the thing they are being negative about. Students know what class of comments are seen as reflecting badly on the professor and which reflect badly on them. They, for example, they rarely write that they were unhappy that no online notes were provided as they find the library inconvenient to visit late at night when they tend to start work or that it isn't on their way home. I also find that they are reluctant to say "I found the material too hard" so will often rephrase it terms of poor teaching or an arrogant professor or something else. Not everything is at it seems at first sight, in other words.

Kristin said...

I teach at a small state college, and we are required to do give out the scantron-type evals, but nothing else. Our administration is fairly good about understanding the worth of evals, and their limitations. However, a couple years ago our academic vice president decided that the *number* of completed evaluations was important - i.e., if you have 35 kids in your class, but only 15 turn in evals (even if they were all spectacular) that would count against you when it came to tenure and promotions. Absolutely ridiculous!

another young FSP said...

Part of teaching is learning how to be approachable and to "work" a room; public speaking is a learned skill. If the evaluations consistently reflect that the prof is failing to break through to the students, then it really is something to work on - to the extent that it is worth it for that prof to improve their teaching (teaching vs research balance is another issue entirely).

Most universities have teaching centers and teaching courses; they are usually designed for TAs, but can be incredibly helpful for young profs as well. My first year teaching was an incredible learning experience, and a lot of my feedback actually came not from my student, but from my TA who had been required to sit through a full week of a teaching methodology course and distilled the most important elements to me.

One of the other useful tools for me has been mid-term evaluations - in my large lecture course, I give 5 minutes in class for students to list their top 3 things I'm doing right in the course, and top 3 things they would like to see change; I collect (no names) and collate the information and go over it in the next lecture. I've found that even if there are things the students disagree with, just giving them the chance to share these and going over the reasons I've chosen to structure my course in the way that I have has improved student rapport immensely. And if there are things the students hate that I don't have a particularly good reason to do, then I have to be the flexible one.

These things won't necessarily take you from middling evaluations to spectacular, but they should help you avoid being someone the students hate and avoid. And works in the context of your other posts on profs improving with time.

yolio said...

It seems to me that students could use a lot more guidance on how to give feedback. I think they should be specifically about common problems with the quality of their feedback (such as the ones you describe) and encouraged not to fall into the same subjective traps over and over again.

But when all is said and done, students can have some very misplaced expectations about what a professor should do or should be like. There are things that the student's aren't really qualified to evaluate, and they shouldn't be taken very seriously. Your's is a very good example; your colleague doesn't need to change, these kids just need to grown the fuck up.

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad they fill out evaluations before they do their finals. I'm very friendly in the classroom. We have a dialogue going on in the classroom and those students who come to office hours regularly get my full attention and see the results of their hard work on their exams. Mid-semester evaluations that I handed out came back with no negative comments or suggestions for improvement. But I am now wondering if they somehow took my pleasant demeanor to mean I was going to give everybody an A. It's the only explanation I can think of for the shock and anger I am seeing from students who failed the final and received poor overall grades. These are -- without exception -- students who did not attend class regularly, did not attend discussion sessions, and never came to office hours despite repeated invitations. I'm sure if they were filling out evaluations now, I would be receiving some extremely nasty comments. And I've done just about everything I can do to help them. I can track their access to materials online and I know for a fact that less than 30% of the class looked at essential material (much of which was also discussed in the classes they didn't attend). Short of standing over them like a mother to make them work, I don't see what I can do to 'be a better teacher'. They need to take some responsibility for their learning.

Lara said...

Thanks for this post. For me, it ultimately comes down to this: 10% of my students think I'm the best, most helpful, most inspiring professor that ever walked the earth, and 10% think I'm the most unapproachable hateful, arrogant b!tch who ever graced a lecture hall. (Neither is likely, of course.)

I've learned to ignore the superlatives -- which are usually from students at the extreme ends of the grade distribution, or who earned lower grades than they felt they "deserved"--and focus on the students who provide constructive, thoughtful commentary on my courses.

F said...

To me, the most important thing is that the professor is fair and competent in her or his job. Beyond that, each professor has her own style. Rudeness or hostility is of course another thing altogether, but as a student I don't really need nor expect to be friends with my professors.

Huh, sometimes I think it's actually easier to pass a course, if the professor is stern and distant.

I've had some professors, who were very nice and pleasant people, not much older than me. Because I liked them, I wanted to please them. So I really stressed about failing the class and "disappointing" them!

Anonymous said...

The 'unapproachable' thing? Me too. Not that I teach, but I know some work colleagues see me that way. I too am not rude.
I think I am being polite and friendly, but still people don't particularly seem comfortable.
I would like to project more friendliness, but I don't really know how. I'm not oblivious to social norms/ tactless, but I find it very hard to fake.
If I try too hard, it comes across as odd, false, or over-friendly.
I am an introvert.
And Anon at 7.15, tell me about it, it is much worse for females who are this way. We are expected to be available and warm all the time.
It is hurtful, because I do not intend to seem cold to people. People are expected to basically to be extroverts. Impression is all.

FEP said...

Thank you for the recent posts about teaching and teaching evaluations. They are very informative, educational, and even comforting at times.

Siz said...

"Just because a prof's intention is not to be rude or arrogant, does not mean it is OK if many students feel this way. They should try to alter their behavior in such a way as to not 'come off' rude. Teaching is a social experience and some professors need to work on their social skills."

Maybe students need to change their expectations of how friendly and touchy-feeling their professors should be? I'm not hear to be my students friends, I'm here to teach them something. And honestly, students really don't want to have to talk to their professors.

I actually just received the best evaluation comment ever. I taught an upper division lab course for the first time this semester and all in all, it went pretty well. In the final exam for 5 points I asked my students to tell me something they learned this semester and one of the responses I received was, "I learned that not all chemistry professors are socially awkward or creepy" Now, I'm not sure if this says more about me or more about my department but I appreciated it none the less.

My first semester teaching, however, was a little bit tougher. It was a graduate student course on something I wasn't 100% comfortable teaching for the first time. I spent a lot of time preparing for lecture and carefully choosing good homework problems. There was one first year student though that was terrible. Would show up late for class, not turn in the homeworks. I had to physically remove an exam from his hands because the time was way past and he would not give me the exam. Long of the short, he failed. I expected a bad eval from him so I wasn't too surprised. The thing that did surprise me was one other really bad eval and I have no idea who it came from. I can only assume it was personal because all the other evals were good.

Anonymous said...

I am frustrated by the ridiculous questions that are often found on student teaching evaluations. The first question on the eval used at my university is basically whether or not the professor provided a syllabus. It is a "yes or no" question. But the choices are Strongly agree (corresponds to an SIE score of 5), agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree (SIE score of 1). It is completely and objectively verifiable what the score to this question should be (ie, if the prof provided a syllabus, all answers should have been strongly agree). But, inevitably, students who didn't like the course, think they aren't going to get the grade that they deserve, etc., will give a false answer just to "punish" the prof. Another question on our evals is "I have had to work hard in this course." Well, maybe a student didn't feel as though he/she had to work hard because he/she simply understood the material very well and/or was good at memorizing information for exams. Maybe the student didn't work hard and subsequently didn't get a good grade in the class. Regardless, the professor is penalized for behavior that is primarily the responsibility of the student. And finally, my favorite question regarding how a professor "ranks" relative to other professors that the student has had in their field. Instead of the strongly agree, agree, etc. format, the answers range from Top 10% down to Bottom 10%. Having taught freshman, how in the world are they supposed to compare faculty? I used to teach freshmen in their first engineering course, meaning they had not had any other engineering profs. So, there was no one for them to compare me to. Were they by default comparing me to their high school or community college teachers? That is not a battle than any university prof is likely to win. As an aside, I didn't teach freshmen for long, as I was a very young (under 30) assistant prof. I was moved to senior-level classes, and with the exception of one senior class where several students tried to get together and bully me, I have had much better teaching evals (although, still not the 4.5/5.0 that is supposedly the average in my college of engineering). I would like to believe that the experts in the field of education could come up with a better eval form, but so far it hasn't happened at my university. I would also be interested in hearing how other young faculty, esp. females, deal with students (usually male) who try to bully or intimidate you.

The Littlest Professor said...

Teaching evaluations are one of the banes of my life. I'm a prof at a small liberal arts college, so obviously good teaching is really important and looked at seriously for the tenure process. At all other times of year, I hear from colleagues how student evals are "useless," "pointless," "measures how much they like you, not how well you actually did."

Then when it's time to evaluate your tenure prospects, suddenly all they care about is that negative outlier. There must have been something completely horribly awfully wrong with you because if there weren't then you wouldn't have received that one negative eval.

shmedelle said...

niewiap said...
My general experience is that students in the US are extremely needy and whiny.
I don't have experience (as a student) outside of the U.S., but I have witnessed unwarranted entitlement. It's a different sort of a problem, like you said, if a professor actually cannot teach, is disorganized or overtly rude. But going out of your way to be kind and respectful to students? Luckily, for me, I only had one such teacher, and he was so pathetic that I went really easy on his evaluation because I felt sorry for him, and didn't want to be the cause of the poor guy to never be allowed to teach another upper level.

However, it's my opinion, that it's in your best interest (even if you are, a thousand-times more knowledgeable than they are,) to respect students, because if you do not, you will be relegated to be the "asshole who everyone wants to key his fucking car". FUCK YOU! I am twice your age (or more) and have on average about 10000x more knowledge and experience than your sorry freshman ass - you should be respectful towards me and not the other way around. You can shove your evaluations up your fucking ass! I have no doubt that you do have 10000000x more knowledge than those inexperienced freshman asses. Put them in there place by thrusting your wisdom into their feeble brains when they say something dick-ish and stupid. Turn the tables on them, in a Socratic kind of way.

If you come across as a bully (not knowing that you necessarily come across that way at school) it will only serve to turn them off to higher ed. But, what do I know? I went to art school.

Having said that, when I was in school, I was so enamored with my professors that I wouldn't go to office hours unless I couldn't get the needed info. from a class mate. I respected their time.

What I would like to know is, why would a tenured prof. really care about evaluations anyway?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:51,

"I am frustrated by the ridiculous questions that are often found on student teaching evaluations. [...] It is completely and objectively verifiable what the score to this question should be [...] students who didn't like the course, think they aren't going to get the grade that they deserve, etc., will give a false answer just to "punish" the prof."

Although a multiple-response answer to "did the prof provide a syllabus" might seem superficially ridiculous, it could potentially be used in a useful way. Since it's an objective binary question, assume that the majority of the class gave the correct answer, and disregard the entire evaluation of anyone who gave the opposite answer. i.e., if they lied on one question, they probably lied on others.

I think there are psychological evaluations that work this way (MMPI?), with questions subtly designed to gauge honesty.

I suppose it wouldn't work if the entire class has it out for you, or for inattentive students who don't remember they got a syllabus and honestly, albeit incorrectly, got the question wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, 12/17/09 wrote:
"Although a multiple-response answer to "did the prof provide a syllabus" might seem superficially ridiculous, it could potentially be used in a useful way. Since it's an objective binary question, assume that the majority of the class gave the correct answer, and disregard the entire evaluation of anyone who gave the opposite answer. i.e., if they lied on one question, they probably lied on others."

I completely agree with you here, but unfortunately, at my university, they do not disregard any answers when calculating your SIE score. They don't throw out the low and the high, nor do they report any standard deviations. Only the average for each question and the overall average is reported. These are the numbers that have to be reported in a faculty member's reappointment or promotion and tenure dossier. I usually have classes with less than 20 students, so if even one student goes down the list and gives you the lowest score on every question (even if the rest of the scores are very high), it gets figured into your average. So, one student can really skew the average.

There is also the issue of comments...ALL comments, no matter how inappropriate or obscene are forwarded on to the prof (at one time, even to the dean, but not anymore). All of these comments are supposed to be available to reappointment and promotion and tenure committees. I have colleagues at other schools who say it is policy to toss out any comments that are profane or unprofessional, and the students are aware of this policy.

I can only hope that one day, there will be a better way...

namnezia said...

One thing I find to be useful is that at some point half-way through the semester I hand out blank index cards and ask the students their opinion about the course so-far. What they like or dislike and what they would like to see changed. I then read and summarize the comments and during the next class present the most common comments (a la Zagat's) and how they will be addressed during the rest of the course. This is nice for the students because they see you really are responsive and really do care, plus it allows for some free-form feedback without the constraints of the departmental eval forms.

Anonymous said...

The unfortunate FSP and her colleagues are shouldering the burdens that liberalism has wrought on academic culture. Why is it FSP's responsibility to act as psychologist, motivational speaker, and efficiency expert? Thse are in addition to having performed her own duties of creating the course, winning the research grants (which will bring the prestige to the degree that these spoiled students are now getting) and so on. I'm sure that FSP did not receive such hand holding in her days---or she would not have developed the skills which allowed her to persevere and arrive where she is now.

---disgruntled anonymous (and unprestigious) state u. grad