Teacher evaluation: how much it shows the truth?

This semester I am teaching principle of microeconomics. My class is a large class with more than 100 students. This is my first time that I teach such a large class and in this view, it is a fascinating experience. I have a policy to ask from my students to give me a feedback about my teaching. I ask my student to fill out a survey and also write their comments in the middle of semester. This semester I asked from students before spring break and more than 65% of class filled out the survey. The survey helps me a lot to improve my teaching skill and after the spring break I try to apply some of the feed back I got into my teaching approach. However, I found their evaluation is not completely accordant with reality. For instance, I do my best to bring the real world examples into class and since the course is talking about the theory of microeconomics, most of the time it is hard to find a good example that matched with real life situation. I showed them a video of presidential candidate to explain different economic systems. I found a graph that shows younger people tend to vote to Bernie whereas middle aged people tend to vote for Hillary and from this example and graph, I explained the notion of opportunity costs. I talked about Martin Shkreli case which increases the price of a drug used for curing AIDS by more than 700% overnight last September and then I ask a question why he can do it easily without being worry to loose money and from this approach I explained the notion of elasticity of demand. All in all, the feed back I gained was that they don’t get examples from real world and they don’t know how these theories can be applied into real world. I also get a feed back for instance that I read from slides while I never do that and I don’t remember I teach by reading slides. After the survey was closed, I think a lot how much these surveys and teaching evaluation questionnaire shows the reality? When I consider the part of the survey which was related to evaluation of students, almost all of students read the course carefully, do their assignments regularly and attend in class seriously, but when you consider the course and teacher evaluation, students tend to be pessimistic and think that all of their problems with this course comes from a fact that either teacher or books are not helpful and the teacher does not teach effectively. In this atmosphere, I look at teacher evaluation done with a students with lots of doubt. I don’t want to exculpate myself, however, after getting those feedback where part of that (and for sure not all of that) is far from the truth, I am thinking about this question that is teaching evaluation done by students can evaluate truly the teacher? My answer to this question is “No”. In my opinion, student based evaluation of teachers are really good tools for considering teaching effectiveness of a teacher from point of view of those who are going to learn the materials, but this evaluation is not enough. In fact, students are biased and if they think they are not good in a course, they give more negative weight to teacher and they don’t look at themselves that maybe they don’t study hard or take the course seriously. In my view, in addition to student based evaluation, teachers need to be evaluated by their colleagues. The feedback of other faculty members about teaching policy would be much helpful due to their experiences and the fact that their views are not biased. Evaluation of teachers both by students and faculty members can give a big and clear picture to a teacher to improve her positive skills and remove the negative issues from her teaching approach.

14 Comments

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14 Responses to Teacher evaluation: how much it shows the truth?

  1. The problem with student surveys for teachers is an interesting one. Often times, the results you get from these surveys doesn’t show what is actually occurring for the majority of students in your class. Students who take the survey tend to fall in one of two spectrum. The first being students who are upset for whatever reason; low grades, doesn’t like material, personal bias, etc. These results are always critical. The other are students who are excelling in the class and respond overly positively; great class, great teacher, great experience. What tends to be missing is the large portion in the middle that has the true value.

    Perhaps another solution is to have your students provide the real world examples? Even in a large class section of more than 100 students, you could invite volunteers to demonstrate a microeconomic theory using examples from their own lives and experiences. Maybe having two or three volunteers paraphrase a theory and draw connections to their own lives would allow for greater buy in from the rest of the class?

    I appreciate that you continue to question various methods for creating engagement with your students.

  2. Sheryl

    Thank you for the post. Teaching evaluations are always tough because there are SO many other things that go into a student’s evaluation of you (as Willie mentioned) that may or may not reflect your teaching at all. I also have maybe a different viewpoint from which to take the student critique of not providing enough real world examples. I wonder if you are providing plenty of real-life examples, but maybe they are not identifying them as relevant and thus brushing them off or “not hearing them”? I think maybe one good way to try and address this is Willie’s suggestion to ask them to provide some examples. I do, however, agree that evaluations are often not at all related to the reality of the teaching and your example is a perfect reflection of this.

  3. Amy Hermundstad

    I think you bring up a lot of great points about the problems with student evaluations. When I taught last year, I had students fill out a survey mid way through the semester and then they filled out the SPOT survey at the end of the semester. And students either responded very positively or very negatively (like Willie mentioned).

    What I found really helpful was the short answer responses that students provided. The answers where students could actually explain their frustrations and the things that the liked was really valuable and showed me what aspects of the class were most confusing.

    Another thing that I have found to be really helpful is to have students reflect on what they have learned at the end of class. In your class, it might be interesting to give students a real world example and then have them write down, in their own words, what the theory was and how it related to the example in class.

    I think your class sounds really interesting and I really appreciate the types of examples that you give students! I’m sure it is helpful for students, even if that doesn’t always show in the evaluations.

  4. Karen R.

    Great post and great comments! My thoughts when reading was that I like the 360 degree feedback method, where you would get feedback from supervisors, peers, and students. This method allows you to have information on your performance and productivity from various levels and points of view. Student information is helpful, however you list many salient points of their negative use or biased-based feedback. If it is not part of your current methods of evaluation, perhaps you could solicit feedback on your own. When you seek what you are looking for from different directions your areas of growth can be seen from multiple areas giving you a greater opportunity for change.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience! You and the previously commentators brought up many points that I had not previously considered, namely that the people who provide feedback will either be those that are doing really well or really not doing well. It makes sense when you look at it from the perspective of reviewing a product, for instance. I was interested in your and Karen’s suggestion that colleagues and supervisors also be included in the evaluation process. Do you or any others know what, if any, systems are in place in the university to make that happen? Thanks again!

  6. carriekilleen

    Thanks for the post! I agree that teacher evaluations are problematic, and, as a student, I am guilty of providing sub-par feedback. I would say, however, that students do not always provide a more negative view than reality on the evaluations. I think a lot of students also tend to mark in the “good” to “excellent” range on most of the questions to get through the evaluation quickly (guilty as charged: this is what I do), only taking the time to mark something different if they either really think something was done well or poorly. I have also thought that evaluation of teaching by colleagues (other professors) would be worthwhile, although that would be adding another responsibility onto already full plates.

  7. Thanks Amy.

    I am totally agree with you. I have two short answer questions and the comments of students there were much more helpful compare to those multiple choice questions.

    I do your suggestions in pop quizzes I gave them in class. For instance there is a theory that says why some firms in short run shut down their firms to minimize their loss and I gave them a quiz (which counts extra credit so there is not any stress then) that why the cafe in Newman library closed during summer whereas ABP cafe in squires open. So they can apply that theory to this question and I think it helps them to understand better then.

  8. Thanks Willie,

    and my point is exactly how can I bring those silent students in the middle of the spectrum into leaning community!

  9. Thanks Carrie

    and this is exactly my point that evaluations specially those multiple choice ones could not give us good feedback/information about the reality. As you said sometimes a student may just fill out all questions in good-excellent range to get rid of evaluation asap. sometimes a frustrated student may fill out all in bad-worst choices and as a result maybe it is not close the reality.

  10. Thanks Brittany,

    As I said to Karen, during summer when I taught for the first time, the advanced instructor of our department who are the supervisor of Grad students in teaching came to my class and after that we had a meeting and he gave me his feedback but this semester this is not the case since he’s also taught two large classes and I think he does not have enough time to come to other students’ classes. But in general I think having feedback from a supervisor specially for grad students who teach undergrad course is really helpful.

  11. Thanks Karen.

    At current situation, only student and I can evaluate my job. We have a supervisor in our department who helps us in teaching issues in general but he was never be in my class to see the way I teach and give me the feedback. In fact he came to my class first time I taught in summer 2014 and his feedback was really helpful at that time but this semester he did not come and will not come too. So my point is how in general we can design an evaluation system that gives us comments closer to reality.

  12. Thanks Sheryl. I will start doing that after my second midterm. The course after that is much for abut applied issues in microeconomics and I think in this situation it is easier for student to bring examples from real world. However, my point in this post was about the evaluation in general and that was only an example. As you said, the problem is how we can design an evaluation agenda that evaluate a teacher’s work closer to reality.

  13. Jie

    I am totally agree with you. Teaching evaluation by students is not efficient. Many students don’t take evaluation seriously. It is just a task for them and they try to finish it as soon as possible. For students who leave comments/suggestions, a few complain the teacher only because of his/her bad performance. Other types of evaluation like colleague evaluation may be helpful, but it seems difficult to implement.

  14. Thanks Jie,

    My point is exactly how can we implement faculty evaluation for instructors?

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