Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Exploring Non-Instructional Factors in Student Evaluations

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Exploring Non-Instructional Factors in Student Evaluations

Article excerpt

Abstract

The use of student ratings to measure instructors' teaching performance and effectiveness in tertiary education has been an important but controversial tool in the improvement of teaching quality during the past few decades. This is an attempt to explore non-instructional factors of student evaluations by discussing and reviewing relevant literature with regard to the most common non-instructional factors in student ratings. Moreover, semi-structured interviews were used with 14 college instructors. The findings show that most of the teachers support the use of student evaluations as a means of quality control and teaching improvement. However, the great majority of teachers expressed their concerns about the non-instructional factors which affect student ratings and make them meaningless. They reported that gender, time of evaluation, expected grades, nationality of the instructor, and other factors can affect student ratings. The study proposes some recommendations which might make student evaluation practices more useful and informative.

Keywords: non-instructional factors, student evaluations, grading leniency, teaching effectiveness, grade inflation

1. Background of the Study

1.1 Rationale

The use of student ratings to measure instructors' teaching performance and effectiveness has been an important but controversial tool in the improvement of teaching quality during the past few decades (Spooren et al., 2007). However, most tertiary institutions rely on student ratings as an indicator of faculty teaching performance (Benton, 2011, p. 41). Empirical research has shown that there is a significant correlation between student evaluations of teaching (SETs) and student grades (Isely & Singh, 2005, p. 29). Student evaluations have a negative and a pernicious effect on teaching if they are not adjusted appropriately and accurately to measure teaching effectiveness (Arreola, 2007; Schneider, 2013). If student evaluations can be increased by giving higher grades, then they are a flawed instrument for evaluating teaching. Moreover, this process may contribute to the inflation of grades in higher education institutions if faculty members have an incentive to improve their evaluations and attract students (Krautmann & Sander, 1999). The findings of Krautmann and Sander (1999) indicated that grades affect student evaluations, and faculty have the ability to "buy" higher evaluations by lowering their grading standards (p. 61). Schneider (2013) claims that faculty at higher education institutions that place significant weight on student evaluations often report that they give out easy grades, avoid controversial material, and dumb down courses in order to get higher student evaluations (p. 122). He criticises student evaluations as a practice poisonous to the teaching environment, inaccurate, easily manipulated, and lacking psychometric sense, reliability, and validity. Furthermore, D'Apollonia and Abrami (1997, cited in Germain & Scanduran, n.d) claim that student evaluations are unsophisticated and provide little insight for teaching improvement; they are, in their view, only crude judgements of instructional effectiveness. All these are considered to be disadvantages of student evaluations aside from their impact on grade inflation. However, it is important to keep in mind when judging student evaluations that just because "good teaching is hard to measure doesn't mean that we should give up trying to assess it" (pp. 124-128). Some scholars, such as Arreola (2007), claim that student evaluations can offer slightly valid and reliable assessments of teaching if they are "properly constmcted, appropriately administered, and correctly interpreted" (p. 98). If the purpose of student evaluations is to improve and reward the quality of teaching, it is important for higher education institutions to develop a system for evaluating teaching that emphasizes the amount students learn and the amount of work they do in a course (Schneider, 2013, p. …

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