Students Give the Grade?

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 at 11:44 PM
Students Give the Grade? by Tracy Geibel

“This student evaluation is part of a process designed to provide students with an anonymous means to record their opinions and judgements relative to experience in the classroom. Your judgements provide a means by which faculty can receive constructive input from students to refine the instructional component of the class.”

Sound familiar? It should. You hear it about five times every semester.

Even though student evaluations of faculty — which take the form of fill-in-the- bubble surveys — take up about 10 minutes of class time, they’re a required portion of some faculty members’ evaluations. And they can be handed out to possibly unhappy students, who roll their eyes and unwillingly fill in the circles with their No. 2 pencil.

“They’re annoying,” student, Becca Bortnick said.

When students fill out the 27 to 36 questions, the results provide faculty and administrators with possible feedback and instruction on if and when to revise teaching methods. The responses are withheld from professors until the next semester, as to avoid any effect on final grades.

“I think we kind of know who the good professors are and we know who the less effective professors are,” Dr. Jean Jones, president of Edinboro’s chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) and professor in the communications department said.

“And they (student evaluations of faculty) are a reasonably decent predictor of how someone does in a classroom. If someone is consistently getting poor evaluations, they are probably not doing great in the classroom and if they are getting great evaluations, they probably are.”

Dr. Anthony Peyronel, chairperson of the journalism and public relations department, said the student evaluations played a role in a decision he made as former chairperson of the communications and media studies department a few years ago. He recommended a certain faculty member should not be renewed.

“I can say that it was based at least in part on poor student evaluations,” Peyronel said.

According to Jones, the evaluations “do have power” and she reiterated that “people’s jobs are on the line with these things.”

She continued, relating less senior staff to tenured professors. “There’s a bulk of evaluation on junior faculty, and it’s weighed very heavily.”

More so the results are meant to instruct faculty members on what’s working, and more importantly, what’s not.

“They are really helpful to faculty who want to better their teaching,” Laura Miller, chairperson of the health and physical education department said. “I know there are a lot of faculty who read their results and work to improve.”

Since she has tenure, she no longer is evaluated on a yearly basis, but she often gives informal evaluations in her classes. Miller asks that students anonymously offer advice. Because of the responses, she has switched the order of content, cut unnecessary information and spent more time on other topics.

Jones too sometimes holds informal evaluations in her classes.

“Evaluations help me to stay in touch with the students I’m teaching,” she said.

The survey students take now was updated several years ago, about five years ago according to Jones’ memory. Before that, the questions hadn’t been updated since 1978.

“It really is hard to come up with a good, fair evaluation system that works for everybody involved,” Jones said “[and] that gives the students their say, that gives management… what they want, and [that] the faculty will be comfortable with.”

She likes the new questions much better, as the previous evaluations included questions like “does the professor uses the book a lot?”

“Is that a good or a bad thing?” she asked.

She went on to say the union would love to see an open-ended section, but recognizes it could be difficult to code the comments.

“To negotiate how that would happen and who has control over those has prevented us, from this point, from having this done,” Jones said.

Miller taught at the University of Maryland for six years prior to joining the Edinboro faculty. While she was there, the students provided comments on evaluations in addition to answering multiple choice questions.

“A lot of times students would provide feedback on things the questions didn’t address,” Miller said.

Peyronel worries that students, who he believes might already be rushing through the evaluation, would do the same in an openended survey, and it might not be all that helpful.

“If it was made more involved and took more time, those students… might be inclined to be even less thoughtful in their responses,” he said.

Student, Bortnick said that she takes the evaluations more seriously than she thinks some other students do.

“I’d say in the middle. I don’t take them too seriously sometimes, but if a professor doesn’t do their job the way I think they should, I give them a low score,” Bortnick said. “But on the other hand, if they do a good job, I make sure they have a high score.”

Bortnick said that if there was an open-ended portion to an evaluation, it should be short in order to be effective.

“It should only require at least one sentence,” she said, “because no student is going to want to do more than that.”

Peyronel knows that the evaluations are not perfect. He says no instrument could be perfect. Yet he hopes that students will take time and effort when filling out the evaluations.

“Whatever instrument is used, the results are relied on,” he said.

“I would urge students to…really provide an honest assessment of what they think of a faculty member because if a student does that, they are extremely valuable.”

Tracy Geibel is the Executive Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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