Student Evaluations of University Teaching

By Sheehan, Eugene P.; DuPrey, Tara | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Student Evaluations of University Teaching


Sheehan, Eugene P., DuPrey, Tara, Journal of Instructional Psychology


We reviewed the literature on student course evaluations and collected many sample scales and items. On the basis of a content analysis of these scales and items and a review of the existing literature, we developed a 27-item Likert scale. The purpose of this study was to identify the characteristics of effective university teachers. In particular, this study investigated the interrelationships between items on teaching rating scales with a view to identifying those items that predict effective instruction at the university level. The data reveal five items that predicted 69% of the variance in a criterion measure of teaching effectiveness.

Research into factors affecting effective teaching has taken different approaches over the years. Initially, researchers sought to identify aspects of the teacher that might be associated with effective teaching. However, factors such as teacher personality, appearance, intelligence, and gender were unrelated to student achievement and effective teachers could not be distinguished from ineffective teachers on these characteristics (Cruickshank, 1986).

Later studies examined the association between student performance and teacher behavior. For example, Feldman (1976) reviewed studies in which students either listed characteristics of superior teachers or he identified such characteristics by finding correlations between the characteristics and global ratings. These studies demonstrated the importance of the teacher's classroom behavior. He found 19 dimensions he believed formed the basis of students' beliefs about effective teaching: value of the course, teacher's interest in the course, enthusiasm, subject matter knowledge, breadth of subject coverage, preparation and organization, presentation skills, speaking skills, sensitivity to student achievement, clarity of objectives, value of supplementary materials, classroom management, frequency and value of feedback, course difficulty, fairness, openness, encouragement and challenge, availability, and respect and friendliness. In a meta analysis, Medley (1977) demonstrated that effective teachers manage their classes differently than less effective teachers: they exercise more control; apply rules consistently; and spend more time on academic tasks. Other studies have identified such teacher behaviors as subject knowledge, organization, efficiency, self-confidence, expectation level for students, and task orientation as characterizing effective instruction.

Marsh and colleagues (Marsh, 1983, 1984, 1987; Marsh & Dunkin, 1992; Marsh & Roche, 1997), using data from several sources (factor analysis, reviews of current instruments, and interviews with teachers) support the view that teaching is multidimensional. Specifically, they identified nine dimensions of teaching: learning/value, instructor enthusiasm, group interaction, individual rapport, organization/ clarity, breadth of coverage, examinations/ grading, assignments/readings, and workload/ difficulty.

These process-product studies laid the foundation for current methods of evaluation of instruction. Teacher behaviors deemed important in effective instruction are identified and included on an evaluation instrument.

The use of paper-pencil instruments to evaluate instruction of university professors has become increasingly common (Marsh & Roche, 1993; Rushton & Murray, 1985). Seldin (1993) found that the use of student ratings as evaluation tools had increased by 57% between 1973 and 1993. Evaluation instruments can be classified into three general types or formats. One format relies solely on a series of closed-ended Likert-type items to which respondents indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with statements describing faculty instruction. Rushton and Murray indicated this was the most common method of evaluating instruction. A second type of instrument uses the narrative evaluation approach in which students respond, with their own comments and suggestions, to open-ended questions about a class and aspects of teaching quality.

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