Friday, May 20, 2005
Sociologist discusses the value of student evaluations
Drawing on some of the literature, blogging sociologist Brayden King examines the value of student evaluations. His thoughts: Evaluations aren't worth much. Apparently, two of the biggest indicators of positive student evaluations are course easiness and instructor sexiness.
I'm out of luck in one of those two areas, so I guess I'd better start making my courses easier. I'll start by removing some of those annoying cases. And statutes. Who needs to learn about the '34 Act in a Securities Reg class, anyway? I'll teach the easiest Securities course on the planet, and revel in my positive evaluations!
Well, either that, or start hitting the gym more regularly . . .
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Who needs the gym? Isn't tenure the real answer to your dilemma? ;)
Posted by: Fitz-Hume | May 20, 2005 2:19:55 PM
I'm sure that there are student evaluations which are less than valuable. But a few of us actually do make an effort to be constructive in them.
This year I had a professor who was very demanding in the reading. That wasn't bad. However, Prof. X's classroom management skills were very poor. I happened to like and respect Prof. X. But many students didn't. Why? Because the reading kept piling up, we'd never get to much of it in class, and Prof. X had an off-putting way re-directing student discussion which discouraged participation. They were all skills I'm sure could easily be remedied, and Prof. X could be both a great scholar *and* a great teacher. And I said as much in my evaluation.
Unfortunately, in the back of our minds, we know most faculty probably never even look at them, so what's the point?
Posted by: Dave! | May 21, 2005 1:35:41 PM
When I fill out evaluations, I address my experience in my class with the professor. Sexiness never comes into play. I go to Hunter College, so a lot of the evaluation is naturally just a lot of bubbling and numerical rating, but the comments section, which is sent to the professor, is where I focus effort. I only have given one truly bad evaluation, and that was of a teacher who was horribly unclear about the glass goals and guidelines and did not make assignments with clear expectations. Argh. Frustration. Had I evaluated her ONLY on the leather pants she frequently wore...I'm afraid her evaluation would have been worse.
Posted by: adam j. sontag | May 21, 2005 10:11:14 PM
It's pretty sad that professors slough off student evaluations under the assumption that (a) students are lazy; and (b) students are dumb (by equating sexiness with competence). It sounds like post-hoc rationalization by professors who couldn't care less whether they are good at their jobs. Remember, a law school education is a consumer product and we would all be stunned to see Ford blow off criticism of their latest SUV because they deem their customers to be ignorant and lazy. Strangely, at my law school, we students have complained the most about professors who cancel too many classes, stray off the syllabus too often, progress through the syllabus too slowly, ignore or ineptly respond to student questions in class, or - believe it or not - assign little to no reading. While the professors that openly refuse to give A's in any class they teach are criticized, so are those who openly refuse to award low grades (i.e., punish students who do not work as hard as the rest of us). We realize that we're paying for a legal education that should, at a minimum, allow us to pass the bar, and at a maximum, make us good lawyers. Law school is expensive and, by and large, we want what we paid for. The comments by law professors to the contrary should be added to the ever-increasing pile of reasons why the institution of tenure should be abolished. Pretty discouraging to see that consumer surveys at law schools go straight to the recycle bin, lest the incompetent faculty members be prodded to improve, retire, or move on.
Posted by: JRW | May 22, 2005 7:31:33 AM
I've always thought that every criticism that can be applied to student evaluations can be applied to the grades professors provide.
Posted by: Visitor | May 24, 2005 6:03:01 PM
It's probably a little early for me to retire, since I haven't begun teaching yet.
As for the validity of the data, I can't confirm or deny it. I don't know that it's particularly valid, but then again, I'm not a sociologist. And I don't have time at the moment to go muck around in the underlying data.
As it is, I'm not particularly convinced by Brayden's blog post, mostly because I would need to spend more time looking at his information. I did think it was an interesting data point, however.
Not in my classes!
Posted by: Kaimi | May 24, 2005 6:13:48 PM
Hmm, apparently Brayden isn't taking it too seriously himself.
See comments at http://www.theconglomerate.org/2005/05/student_evaluat.html
Posted by: Kaimi | May 25, 2005 10:20:58 AM
So, not many professors are so keen on these online ratings sites. As an instructor, I can see why. However, in what I have seen, no one has empirically demonstrated that online evaluations are significantly different than university arranged, hopefully more legitimate, evaluations. It seems as professors, we ought to do less complaining, and more research to see what is really going on, and whether these are as bad as we think they are. If anyone has any thoughts, I would love to hear them.
Posted by: Jeff Hoopes | Apr 10, 2007 6:21:38 PM