Do Student Evaluations Matter?


Recently I read the article Student Evaluations of Teaching Encourages Poor Teaching and Contributes to Grade Inflation: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis and contemplated the importance of student evaluations. Student evaluations are often used to determine future teaching assignments and are asked for if you are applying for a full time position, but do they actually reflect anything?

My experience has been that student evaluations do not reflect my effectiveness as an instructor, but rather whether or not students liked me. Due to trying to get to know my students so I can help them in understanding course concepts by tying them to things they like/understand there may be a person or too who makes claims that I am too personal or inappropriate – this is not remotely factual and may be a deterrent to those who may review my student evaluations. Additionally, due to having a strict assignment submission policy (no lates accepted without extreme circumstance and documentation) students will make negative comments about this too. Students have even claimed that I do not excuse absences, when I do not even count attendance (rather I have a participation grade). Overall, very rarely do all students complete student evaluations and they are merely used for the students who did well to express that they liked me and the students who did not put in the effort I required to express inappropriate and inaccurate comments against me that could be considered libelous.

Ironically enough a website like Rate My Professors seems to offer more legitimate evaluations of my teaching practices, focusing on discussions on how I take time to review for exams, meet with students with Zoom if they need extra help, etc. that are rarely ever mentioned on student evaluations.

I have found in the courses where I require more effort (3000/4000 level) those feature lower metrics.

Therefore, it is important to consider this when reviewing student evaluations. I will not make the leap that the article did that instructors modify their grading and teaching strategies to try to get students to like them better, but sometimes student evaluations are used to adjust practices, as they should be. For example, if students express a low enthusiasm in teaching that might be something that needs to be adjusted in future semesters.

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