Student Evaluation of Teaching Surveys: Do Students Provide Accurate and Reliable Information?

By Lama, Tek; Arias, Patrick et al. | E - Journal of Social & Behavioural Research in Business, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Student Evaluation of Teaching Surveys: Do Students Provide Accurate and Reliable Information?


Lama, Tek, Arias, Patrick, Mendoza, Krista, Manahan, Joanne, E - Journal of Social & Behavioural Research in Business


Introduction

It is a common practice in Australian universities to conduct a Student Evaluation of Teaching survey and using the student feedback as an instrument for assessing lecturers' performance. Most university lecturers in Australia are evaluated using this process every year. The principle underpinning the survey is that the feedback enables universities to identify areas needing improvement, develop new teaching strategies, improve delivery quality and boost teaching outcomes. While the aim is noble, it is debatable as to whether the process used is generating reliable information consistent with its intended objective.

Blower (2014) pointed out the severe implications of such a survey process on academics. He reported that some lost their jobs, while others are considering leaving the profession altogether, primarily because they feel they are subjected to 'continuous undermining and criticism' mostly for pretty lame reasons. There is even a suggestion that a number of high calibre academics receive criticism on minor issues such as their taste in clothing, accent (i.e. pitch in pronunciation) and style of delivery.

The concern here is not about academics receiving negative assessments or criticism. There are bound to be some who are not meeting required expectations. It is imperative that such individuals are identified so university management can initiate appropriate measures to address the issue. This is what the Student Evaluation of Teaching survey process is designed to achieve. The concern however, is whether students give a considered response that contains accurate information about academics which can be reliably used for decision making purposes.

While the issues highlighted with respect to student survey process may exist irrespective of institutions (university or private higher education provider) or type of students (local or international or mix), this study particularly focuses on a university which provides education exclusively to the international students. Two reasons underpin this choice. First, universities across Australia use a common set (if not identical) of student survey process which private higher education providers may not necessarily follow. This provides better representation. Second, international students differ from their local Australian counterparts with respect to their language, culture, system of education, and motivation and; we argue that this provides interesting context to examine the issues.

It is argued that, when answering anonymous surveys, respondents tend to randomly tick the boxes without understanding the questions being asked. Such behaviour is likely to occur for two reasons. First, undergraduate students have not quite reached the stage where they can be expected to think maturely and have a sense of obligation with respect to doing the right thing. Nor are they likely to have the capacity to see the potential consequences on the person concerned of their ticked responses. Second, they are evaluating someone who, most likely, has been giving them perceived criticism about their work, and students may feel that this is their payback time.

Inaccurate and/or biased information will lead to decisions with potentially negative consequences. This is also the case with Student Evaluation of Teaching survey. An unfair treatment of academics based on ill-considered and possibly biased responses can significantly damage both the academic and the university concerned. Thus, the purpose of this study is to explore the survey process. The survey process involves students having to fill out both Student Evaluation of Teaching and Student Evaluation of Units survey questionnaires towards at the end of each semester at the absence of the lecture being evaluated. In this study, it is argued that Student Evaluation of Teaching survey data lack accuracy and reliability and this argument is supported with empirical evidence.

Literature Review

The issue of whether student feedback is considered valid and reliable has been debated for years, both in Australia and in other countries. …

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