How professor evaluations might mean more than you think

Kelly Tunney

At the end of each course, the evaluation tables are turned.

Students get the chance to share their views of their professors’ instruction abilities by filling out Scantron forms that ultimately rate the instructor.

While some students quickly fill in the bubbles and exit the class as quickly as possible, some take the time to reflect on the course and provide feedback for professors.

Either way, the information gathered is ultimately used as a resource for both professors and administration.

Ralph Lorenz, associate dean of the College of the Arts, said professors’ evaluations are considered when deciding on promotions and tenure.

“As we evaluate candidates who come through for reappointment and tenure and promotion,” Lorenz said, “the student teaching evaluation is one of the most important ways in which we evaluate teaching.”

Timothy Chandler, senior associate provost, said after students complete the evaluations, they are then scanned and the data is analyzed, which is given back to the professor and the department chair or school director for review.

Chandler said the collected data plays a big role in determining professors’ careers.

“If students aren’t giving full and complete feedback, we’re not getting as full a picture as we need to,” he said. “They’re an important component of this.”

However, Lorenz said they do take into account that not every student is going to be satisfied with a teacher, no matter their quality of teaching.

“You can’t expect everybody to please 100 percent of the students, so a few dissatisfied students here and there is to be expected with anybody, and that’s taken into account,” he said. “If it’s a recurring pattern, an overall pattern, then that’s cause for concern.”

Lorenz said the evaluations also provide an opportunity for professors to receive feedback on their teaching.

“It’s really valuable for the instructor to get that feedback,” he said. “I think you can really learn from that and learn how your teaching is coming across to students and if you need to make any changes to improve your communication style or the structure of the class or so forth.”

Chi-hua Chiu Groff, assistant professor of anthropology, said the evaluations could really change how a class is taught.

“Mostly it’s just useful information,” she said. “It can really help professors improve the quality of their teaching, even though the student might not take that class again.”

Groff said she has personally used student feedback to change the way she presents lecture notes online. She originally posted PowerPoint notes online after the class lecture but did not provide what the slides were.

“Now what I do is that when I provide the PowerPoint to the students, I actually write sort of what I said for each slide, and I call that the transcript of the PowerPoint,” she said. “I put that online on the Vista site as well. Now when students are studying, they have the slide in front of them and they have basically what I said in front of them as well.”

Tracy Wallach, mathematical science lecturer, said she has used the feedback she gets from students to change certain things about her teaching that she did not see herself.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing and students will catch it and point it out,” Wallach said. “For example, a student pointed out that I was playing favorites with the struggling students. They were right; I was, so I corrected that.”

Chandler said that a commission, set up last year by the Faculty Senate has reviewed the process of teacher evaluations and submitted a report in August of possible revisions to the evaluations.

“They’ve done an analysis and made some interesting suggestions as to how this might be even better as a system,” he said.

Chandler said one of the changes being considered is giving the students more opportunity to provide written feedback to professors.

“They are saying maybe we should have more open ended questions, which gives students a greater opportunity to actually give some feedback that is more useful.”

Chandler said the Lovejoy Commission has also suggested a midterm evaluation that would allow students to inform professors of techniques that were or weren’t affective.

“They are saying why don’t we have a midterm evaluation when you can say to the professor, ‘You’re doing well here; I don’t understand this; could you have done a better job here.’” Chandler said. (Professors) can make some mid-course corrections in the way that they are doing things that would also help you.”

The report is currently under review by the Faculty Senate.

Chandler said students should take the evaluation process seriously since it affects both the professor’s career and how the professor will teach future students.

“I see it as both a right for the student but also a responsibility,” he said. “You have the right to criticize the teacher, but you also have a responsibility to give honest feedback.”

Contact Kelly Tunney at [email protected].