Friday, September 19, 2014

Scholars Take Aim at Student Evaluations’ ‘Air of Objectivity’

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 18th, 2014

Student course evaluations are often misused statistically and shed little light on the quality of teaching, two scholars at the University of California at Berkeley argue in the draft of a new paper.
"We’re confusing consumer satisfaction with product value," Philip B. Stark, a professor of statistics at Berkeley, said in an interview.
"An Evaluation of Course Evaluations," which he wrote with Richard Freishtat, senior consultant at Berkeley’s Center for Teaching and Learning, lays out a mathematical critique of the evaluations and describes an alternative vision for analyzing and improving teaching.
Even though evaluations have become ubiquitous in academe, they remain controversial because they often assume a high-stakes role in determining tenure and promotion. But they persist because they are easy to produce, administer, and tabulate, Mr. Stark said. And because they are based on Likert scales whose results can be added and averaged, he said, they offer the comfort of a number. But it is a false kind of security. "Averages of numerical student ratings have an air of objectivity," the authors write, "simply because they are numerical."

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