Natural Selection and Student Evaluations

There is an undoubted relationship between teaching effectiveness and popularity. Certainly, an instructor, who cannot engage in person to person relationships or who would be disliked as an individual by those whom he or she is teaching, has some significant hurdles to overcome in order to be an effective teacher. This is not to say, however, that the popularity of an instructor is a solid and reliable measure of that instructor’s effectiveness. The universities tread a dangerous path indeed when they identify effectiveness with popularity and, in so doing, provide their faculty with a strong incentive to play popularity games.
How did I end up reading this note on teaching effectiveness by Jonathan Lewin is not really related to this story. But it certainly got a point. He adds:
Every instructor wants to be popular but an instructor is not an entertainer. Every instructor wants his or her students to be happy and contented and to feel good about themselves. However, feeling good about oneself is not the same as actually having learned something. Sometimes an instructor is forced to make decisions in the full knowledge that the decisions are unpopular. Students may not appreciate the need to study certain material that they may see as painful, boring, irrelevant or intimidating. Students may not understand an instructor’s decision not to permit the use of electronic calculators in an examination. Students may not understand the importance of being able to justify the validity of the methods they are using to solve mathematical problems.
But students are not often in a position to be able to make valid judgments about such matters. Sometimes an instructor must stick to his or her guns and say what is right instead of what the students want to hear and the interests of our society would not be served if we did not grant our instructors the freedom to take an unpopular stand when it is necessary for them to do so.
While in my first job as a teacher everyone made me feel they trust me, it wasn’t quite the same in the second, when everyone kept talking about student evaluations. He then adds:
We must not lose sight of the fact that a university instructor is a highly trained individual of superior intelligence who has worked for many years to develop the professional skills and insights that the process of instruction demands and who cares deeply about the welfare of his or her students. We should be willing to place our trust in the professional training of our instructors and to exercise the utmost care before we try to second guess them.
The rest of the note gets even more interesting.
Allowing students to see themselves as judges of their instructors, putting them in a position, or even giving them the perception that they are in a position in which, by the stroke of a pen, they can affect their instructors’ lives, their salaries and the very stability of their jobs, is an unhealthy perversion of the student instructor relationship. It is incompatible with an atmosphere in which an instructor should be able to exercise sufficient authority to direct the educational process. Giving students the message that they are qualified to judge their teachers is also an act of sabotage against the dignity of our profession. Few other professionals would tolerate such indignity. Would we expect a judge in a court of law to leave the room so that all those who have conducted business in that court can submit opinions about the judge’s performance? Can anyone believe that our courts would operate more efficiently and accurately if such a process were to be instituted?
Not to forget that he mentions right at the beginning:
We should not doubt the enormous importance of the process of measuring the teaching effectiveness of our instructors but that does not mean that any kind of measurement will do.
Read it here.
It wouldn’t be fair for me not to say that I believe student’s evaluation of a course and instructor have got certain points in them, but to perform it in the way they are practiced nowadays, and the effect that they have on an instructor’s life are questionable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s