April 24th, 2014
It’s student evaluation time again—and I should be the last professor in the world to complain. With slight exceptions for “caring too much” and courses that meet “too early” (9:10 a.m.), my evaluations are quite good. And yet the student evaluations of teaching (SETs) I’ve received during my decade-long teaching career have meant absolutely nothing. This is because student evaluations are useless.
Ostensibly, SETs give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.
First, evaluations promote sucking up to customers—I’m sorry, students—often at the expense of teaching effectiveness. A recent comprehensive study, for example, showed that professors get good evaluations by teaching to the test and being entertaining. Student learning hardly factors in, because (surprise) students are often poor judges of what will help them learn. (They are, instead, excellent judges of how to get an easy A.)