Evaluating professors

At most colleges, students evaluate professors and course evaluations are made public. But is it a meaningful tool or a popularity contest?

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  1. Prof210 says:

    I find it useful. I give frequent quizzes and a comprehensive final exam and wouldn’t go through the trouble if not for so many students admitting that it was helpful.

    It is also a useful reminder that the same stuff that one student loves is hated by some other students — Ya can’t please everybody.

  2. Tom Hudson says:

    At my university, the people who *study* student evaluation say that large numbers of numerical student ratings below “average” are usually a sign of a real problem with the teacher, but once they hit “average” it’s just a popularity contest.

    Since we’re primarily a teaching school, the senior faculty who decide on tenure cases got there because they had high student ratings, and they don’t want to pay attention to that research finding. So I’ve been told to do whatever it takes to raise my student ratings – which apparently boils down to making my classes easier, since those same senior faculty can’t see that I’m doing anything *wrong* – if I want to keep my job.

    Now, prose feedback is really useful; I take a survey about a month into the course and may change the way I’m teaching if lots of students point out problems.

    Even ratemyprofessor.com is problematic. If you go there, you see I’ve got a fairly mediocre numerical rating. But if you read the student comments in some detail, you see non-major students complaining that they didn’t want to have to do so much work or learn as much as I expected them to, and major students replying that I made them work really hard but they learned a lot.

  3. I find the comments far more useful than the numbers. (I’m roughly average, slightly below in my non-majors class, but then everyone in my department who teaches that class gets dinged on the numerical evaluations).

    I’ve had students ask for more-directed homework assignments (which I did), more homework (which I implemented), I’ve had students suggest that the three papers per semester were a bit many (and I eliminated one). I’ve also had students (in my non-majors class) tell me they never liked science until they took my class, which tells me I won a little, and means more to me than any numbers on a piece of paper.

    I do also get students complaining about the amount of material I expect them to learn, but really, I don’t know if I should consider that a badge of honor or if I should reconsider the amount I cover.

    I DO think evaluations might be more helpful were they done mid-semester rather than at semester’s end, when everyone’s burnt out, and there’s no chance for the prof to make mid-course corrections. And with anonymous evaluations, I don’t see any need for them to be at the end of the semester. I’ve tried asking for input on my own, but the students seem to be scared of giving any.

  4. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    It depends on the student.

    Conscientious, intelligent students who wouldn’t dream of cheating or plagiarizing are going to give useful information.

    Pretty much everyone else is going to judge it as a popularity contest.

    Now ask yourself… how many of each type of student (meaning (1) the former and (2) everyone else) do you have in your classes? In your school?


  5. Wayne Martin says:

    > I don’t know if I should consider
    > that a badge of honor or if I should
    > reconsider the amount I cover

    My vote goes for “Badge of Honor”.

  6. SuperSub says:

    The issue depends largely on the intended use of the feedback – as an evaluation of the instructor or the design of the course. Surveys are great for making adjustments to the course, especially when large class sizes prevent open discussion.
    As for evaluation of the instructor – students are generally not qualified to make such evaluations and also have a conflict of interest (the customer is NOT always right). Universities using surveys in this manner have simply found an easy way to shirk their responsibility of supervising their professors and TAs.

  7. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The website ratemyprofessor.com is joke. Included in the criteria is a ‘hotness’ factor (with chili pepper icon) LOL….check out David Horowitz’ book ‘The ProFessors’ on which profs to avoid.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    Ratemyprofessor is not perfect. But if I don’t know anyone who has taken the class I’m considering, it’s better than nothing. The trick is to ignore the numbers and read the comments. If most students say the class is an easy A, I know that’s one to skip. If some students say the class is hard but good, and some whine about how hard it is, I suspect I’ve found a winner.

    Other bad signs: several complaints about capricious grading; several complaints about the professor being inaccessible; complaints about the professor making an interesting subject dull; a substantial number of students complaining about ideological bias of the professor; complaints about a teacher being unable to control the classroom.

    I disagree that students are unqualified to make such evaluations. For me, the best possible reason to choose a class would be a recommendation from someone like me who found the class valuable. When I’ve followed such a recommendation I’ve generally been pleased with the class.

  9. Besides, what are the alternatives? The web sites don’t have to be good, they just have to be better then a roll of the dice or appear to be since the institutions don’t perform that function.