Friday, July 02, 2010

What are teaching evaluations good for? Part II

They aren't meant to be advertisements for the easiest class--the one that won't take up any of your valuable time or give you any sort of intellectual struggle, that's for sure! Though this clearly isn't how the users of see the value of that site.

Check out my ratings or those of any of your friends--I'm betting they have some version of these comments:
1. This teacher is willing to help as long as you do the work.
2. This class was not so good because the professor expects attendance.
3. I liked this teacher because the grading was easy (or didn't--because it wasn't).

One of my more frequent comments on intro-level philosophy teaching evaluations: SHOW MORE MOVIES. Interestingly, showing more movies (at least up to my level of tolerance) does not reduce the frequency of the comment.

But I don't usually criticize the very idea of teaching evaluations. Though they are a limited tool, surely they can flag (for chairs and administrators) those professors who are committing terrible mistakes--disrespecting students or (at the other end of the scale) giving everyone an A just for breathing. They should be taken in context, and the context should be understood to reflect student's cultural preconceptions about courses and professors.

Stanley Fish does criticize their very idea on a NYTimes blog. I usually love to disagree with Fish, but on the state of Texas' proposals for teaching evaluations and higher ed, I'd give him a high-5.

In case you missed them:

OPINION | June 21, 2010
Stanley Fish: Deep in the Heart of Texas
Assessing teaching performance through student evaluations is still a terrible idea, and Texas is leading the way.

OPINION | June 28, 2010
Stanley Fish: Student Evaluations, Part Two
Further discussion, with readers taking part, on the pros and (mostly) cons of students' evaluations of teachers.

Here's my favorite passage:
[One] proposal is to shift funding to the student-customers by giving them vouchers. “Instead of direct appropriations, every Texas high school graduate would get a set amount of state funds usable at any state university” (William Lutz, Lone Star Report, May 23, 2008). Once this gets going (and Texas A&M is already pushing it), you can expect professors to advertise: “Come to my college, sign up for my class, and I can guarantee you a fun-filled time and you won’t have to break a sweat.” If there ever was a recipe for non-risk-taking, entirely formulaic, dumbed-down teaching, this is it. One respondent to the June 13 story in The Eagle got it exactly right: “In the recent past, A&M announced that it wanted to be a top ten public university. Now it appears to be announcing it wants to be an investment firm, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and a car dealership.”

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