Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Using Student Course Evaluations to Design Faculty Development Workshops

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Using Student Course Evaluations to Design Faculty Development Workshops

Article excerpt


Teaching consumes fifty percent or more of a professors time (Bowen and Schuster, 1986), yet professors are tenured, promoted and evaluated more on the basis of their research and scholarly activities than on their teaching. It may be too much to say that institutions of higher learning "have paid lip service" to the importance of teaching, or that "Policies, procedures and criteria for the evaluation and promoting of faculty in higher education contribute to the marginalization of teaching" (Davidovitch and Soen, 2006, p. 351). It is curious, however, why the activity that consumes so much time, and is seen by many outside the academy as the overarching objective of a college or university (namely, to educate students), is often of lesser importance when evaluating faculty performance.

It may be, at least in part, due to the reward structure outside of colleges and universities. As Kai Peters (2005, p. 150) wrote in a letter to the editor of the Harvard Business Review,

   business schools, through their accreditation systems, are driven
   to adhere to a common academic model that heavily emphasizes the
   number of articles their faculty members publish in first tier
   journals rather than the impact the research might have on
   practitioners. Opting out of this system carries high penalties for
   those institutions--possible loss of credentials, of degree
   awarding powers, of access to government funding.

It may also be because research and scholarly activity is easier to evaluate than is teaching. Most institutions count journal articles, consider the quality of the journals (often using published rankings), how often articles are cited, how many conference presentations are made, how many funding grants have been applied for and received, and so on. This is not all that difficult, either conceptually or in practice.

Assessment of a professor's teaching effectiveness requires, as Graeme Decarie (2005) stated, "some standard measure of what students know before the course and what they know after." It may be too much to say, as Decarie then opined, "No one has the faintest idea how to do that." We do know how to do it: have some idea what is to be accomplished in the class before hand, administer a pre-test, administer a post-test, and compare the results. There may be professors, schools, colleges or universities that do something like this, but certainly outcomes based measures are not the standard procedure for evaluating a professor's teaching effectiveness. And even at just this, it certainly would be more involved than the current standard procedure for evaluating scholarly activities.

Instead, the current standard procedure at most institutions is to rely on one form or another of end-of-course student evaluation as an indicator of faculty teaching performance. As Seldin (1993) opined, "student ratings have become the most widely used--and, in many cases, the only--source of information on teaching effectiveness" (see, also, Wilson 1998 for a similar observation). And student evaluations are not outcomes based measures; they are largely satisfaction surveys. (1)

Using student course evaluations as input into personnel decisions about who to hire, hire back, tenure, and promote is controversial. (2) The purpose of the present paper is not to further contribute to the large literature regarding the validity and reliability (or lack thereof) of student evaluations, but to suggest that since we do administer them, and since there is zero likelihood that we will stop administering them, department chairs, program directors, deans and those responsible for faculty development programs should use the information collected for formative purposed. The student voice, while impacted by any number of variables, does say something regarding the instruction they have received and it ought not be ignored. While we should not mistake student course evaluations as an assessment of teaching effectiveness, we should fully appreciate that satisfied students may learn more but they certainly evaluate professors higher and, likely, have a higher opinion of the program, the school, the college or the university. …

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