Why student evaluations are bad metrics

On another social media site a colleague posted an article on why student evaluations are gender biased. I posted it on our faculty list which prompted a colleague of mine to respond with this rant. i think it sums up how bogus SETs are.
I have major issues with SET.
1. Teaching and learning are two separate and not necessarily related activities. .I am responsible for my teaching, and do my utmost to make it accessible, relevant, interesting, fun, challenging etc while gearing it toward the stated learning objectives. Students are responsible for their learning and if they are willing to put in the work, seek support, and follow advice and feedback usually do well enough,if not they often do less well. But I am not responsible for that. Unfortunately, the SETs conflate teaching effectiveness with student learning, often seen in terms of grades already given earlier in the course, or expected grades at the end.
2. Students are not necessarily the best people to assess teaching – teaching is, or perhaps should be, based upon pedagogical theory and practice wisdom which many students simply do not have.
3. SETs often become popularity ratings – and I’m not in the business of being popular (though it is nice at times). My job is to present material, facilitate learning activities etc – and it matters not whether students like me or the exercises I set. I have to admit that I am far more gentle on my students than my tutors were on me, but teaching requires us to challenge and extend our students – Kirkegaard pointed out that a certain level of discomfiture is required for learning to take place – yet this may result in lower SETs.
4. I don’t accept anonymous feedback. I expect students to own the feedback they give. The argument that they may not give honest feedback if they fear any reprisals isn’t a good one as feedback arrives after the course has finished. If they think bad feeling will spill over into future courses, then there are complaint procedures to deal wit this.
5. SETs arrive too late to do anything – if students don’t like what is going on in the course, then they need to say so while the course is running, not afterwards. The argument that it will help improve the course next time round is flawed as (given all the above) the concerns and issues of one cohort may not be the same as those of the following cohort. I always ask for feedback as we go along so I can adjust the course accordingly.
6. The current SETs do not really measure learning outcomes – these are assessed by assignments. Of course this raises the problem that we cannot use assignment grades to assess teaching effectiveness as it is the tutor who marks the assignments whose teaching effectiveness is being evaluated. Peer-evaluation may go some what towards addressing this.
7. Current SET forms are pretty meaningless – students being asked to comment on stuff they cannot be expected to know. Text based responses are usually brief and say very little that is constructive. Most good and bad comments are vague.
8. The current comparative data indicating how well or badly I did against the department or university generally means nothing as they are not comparing like with like. Subjects, disciplines, year of student, level of course, professional course or not etc etc all play into this.
9. Students’ motivations for doing the course play into these evaluations yet are never considered. Students take courses for all sorts of non-academic reasons: interest, compulsion, need for credit, because friends are doing it, because they think it’s easy. When the course asks more of them than they were expecting or willing to give then they may become unhappy and evaluate the teaching more negatively.

About flexosaurus

I am an anthropologist and Associate Professor who loves to play guitar and comment on social injustice in whatever form it may take
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