If it’s early May, then it must be time to talk about what student evaluations of teaching are worth. In a recent essay in Slate, Rebecca Schuman claims that student evaluations are “useless” in their current form, because they encourage students to punish rigorous teachers with low scores and mean comments (and, all too often, sexist or racist ones). The article has gotten a lot of attention from academics I know, who have shared their own stories of uninformed and upsetting comments.
Schuman argues that in light of the unreliability of evaluations, it is unjust to base hiring, firing, and promotion on them. This is especially true for graduate students and part-time faculty members, for whom course evaluations are sometimes the sole documented indicator of job performance.
She is right about the injustice of relying so heavily on a faulty measure of teaching quality, but that in itself does not mean that student evaluations of teaching are useless. It just means we need to use them better. (And, in fact, Schuman does not say we should discard the evaluations altogether, though she does recommend making them more accountable by removing students’ anonymity.)
So how can we make evaluations work better to assess and improve our teaching? Here are four ways to start. <Read more.>