Evaluating student evaluations

It’s that time of year again.

No, not the holly jolly, peace-on-earth holiday craze that settles in about this time each year. It’s student evaluation time.

As any student who has been through at least one semester at Kent State knows, during the last few weeks of class, each professor sets aside time for students to break out their No. 2 pencils and rush through a Scantron that asks them questions ranging from the number of classes they missed to whether the instructor respected and motivated them.

But what most students don’t know is what happens after these evaluations are handed in. And that’s a key a part of how seriously students take them.

Gayle Ormiston, associate provost for faculty affairs and curriculum, said departments sort evaluations by course and section and take them to Academic Computing, which processes them and provides a summary.

That summary, which is usually available by the beginning of the next semester, is given back to the departments, reviewed by the director and then shared with the professor. It details the results of the individual professor and course, and also provides a comparison to the norm for other courses at the university.

The comments written on the surveys are not included in this summary. They’re handled on a department-by-department basis. Some departments have a staff member type up the responses and give the list to the professor. Other departments just make copies of the comments and hand those out. And other departments don’t hand anything out; they just have the evaluations available for professors to look at — if they desire.

The point of the whole process is that professors (and their superiors when applying for reappointment, promotion or tenure) see what worked and didn’t work and how they can improve. It’s a noble cause. But students can screw it up and make results less than meaningful.

Some students will write thoughtful comments and seriously evaluate the course. Others — many of them — will simply rush through filling in “agree” for every bubble without thought or prejudice. Both types of responses get included in the final tally.

We believe there should be a standardized practice of reviewing not only the comments but also the evaluations themselves — something set at the university level, not the department level.

It’s a common misconception that evaluations only matter until a professor has tenure. But holding each instructor to the same level of accountability would reassure students that their thoughtful remarks don’t fall on deaf ears.

That’s probably why many students don’t take the evaluations seriously. They figure professors don’t even bother looking at them or, even if they do, nobody cares.

Professors do care, most of them anyway. Even tenured professors have to include the evaluation results in their annual workload summary, which details what they’ve been doing and what courses they’ve been teaching.

So, while it might seem lame and take an extra few minutes, next time you sit down to an evaluation, don’t just fly through it.

The university takes them seriously, so should students.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.