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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Doonesbury on student evaluations


Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2015 at 05:08 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


Like government, schools have become politically correct. Whatever, you teach, it has to follow the party line.

Posted by: jorod | Jan 18, 2016 4:22:29 PM

Add Stephen Bainbridge to the list of people who should have been failed for using the term "prawf." http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2014/06/yale-law-prawf-stephen-carter-takes-on-the-gay-rights-activists-that-smeared-douglas-laycock.html

Posted by: A Non-E Mous | Nov 24, 2015 9:57:42 AM

Really? Any professor, or TA or instructor, who gave you a passing grade, was guilty of grade inflation. Further, they deserve any poor rating you gave them.

Posted by: Milwaukee | Nov 24, 2015 12:49:28 AM

(I'm 2 years removed from law school so I don't have the freshest memory, but it's likely better than most prawfs.) For me and the class mates I discussed evals with, negative evals had almost nothing to do with professors "challenging" students. It had everything to do with how that challenge was done. We did penalize prawfs who had work load expectations that were out-of-the-norm for the number of credit hours a class was. (Which is a completely fair thing to do; students have to be able to trust a credit hour designation to reasonably manage their workloads for a semester.) And much more importantly, we penalized prawfs for thinking they were "challenging" students when in reality they were just pulling crap teaching methods from the 1960s and thinking those passed for pedagogy. They don't. Prawfs who refused to help students see a comprehensible order to a subject (or acknowledge where there was no comprehensible order) really didn't add value to our learning past what we could have done on our own by reading the casebook.

On the other hand, we had prawfs who legitimately challenged students by requiring a very deep understanding of doctrine. They didn't assign inordinate reading, they just required us to extract more out of what was assigned. And the bulk of our in-class time was spent exploring application, not re-hashing needlessly information in a case. (The "re-hashing needlessly" is usually done by drilling students on cases' facts or procedural posture that were irrelevant to the ultimate point of the case.) The emphasis on application over information was a huge benefit because by the time the exam rolled around, we had done in class a couple of dozen times what the exam was requesting, albeit in written form instead of orally.

Posted by: A Non-E Mous | Nov 23, 2015 11:58:53 AM


The biggest impact on evaluations comes from students believing they have learned. So, teachers who "go out of their way to challenge and prepare their students" already ought to have higher grades.

The problem I see with this though is that professors may be rewarded for more meta-awareness about the class rather than increasing actual student learning. For instance, a professor gives a 10 question pop quiz, the students take it, it's graded, and then the professor goes over the answers in class. A second professor does the same, but takes one more step -- one week later, he gives the exact same pop quiz. The second professor is likely to get a better evaluation because the students will be more immediately aware of their improvement. (The quiz may also be pedagogically valid for reinforcing the material, which should also result in a better eval, but there should also be an independent improvement just from students being aware that they have learned.)


While attendance may be a good metric in some classes, there's too much variation to make that really work. An 8am class will necessarily have more absences than a 3pm class. A class with regular in-class quizzes will have a better attendance rate. So will a professor who includes a lot of trivia on their exam that can only be found in class (Who was Hamilcar Barca?).

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Nov 23, 2015 11:56:52 AM

(number of students who attended class / number of students who signed up) is the best metric I can think of.

Posted by: Pranav | Nov 23, 2015 1:41:29 AM

(number of students who attended class / number of students who signed up) is the best metric I can think of.

Posted by: Pranav | Nov 23, 2015 1:41:09 AM

(number of students who attended class / number of students who signed up) is the best metric I can think of.

Posted by: Pranav | Nov 23, 2015 1:41:09 AM

Sadly, I think this comic is quite on point. Teachers who go out of their way to challenge and prepare their students may get lower evaluation scores, and be perceived as poorer teachers, even though they are the very teachers who should be rewarded. Which leads me to the elusive question: how SHOULD we evaluate ourselves and our colleagues?

Thanks, Howard, for the post.

Posted by: Steven R. Morrison | Nov 22, 2015 11:28:28 PM

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