Wednesday, January 29

Student Assessment of Faculty: Does it Work or Does it Need to Go?


by Alicia Betz

Student evaluations of teaching effectiveness (SETs) are such a common practice at the end of the semester that many people don’t even bat an eyelash at their use. But are they really that effective? Are they statistically significant? Are they biased? Are they a waste of everyone’s time? We’ll dive into those questions and more in this article.

  • The SET experience from a student and teacher perspective 
  • What the research says about SETs
  • A small SET tweak that might make a big difference
  • Where to go from here

Student rating of teaching effectiveness (SRTE)... that's what they were called at Penn State where I did my undergrad. Many colleges and universities call them SETs (student evaluations of teaching effectiveness). 

Everyone knew when it was SRTE time. The professor had to leave the room and designate a student to drop off the forms at an administrator's office when we were all done. A big portion of our professor’s job evaluation was in our hands and we knew it. At Penn State, SRTEs are used to help determine promotion and tenure decisions, and they’re also part of annual faculty reports.

We basically had two options: fill out some bubbles and get on with our lives as quickly as possible or spend some time truly thinking about the course as a whole in order to give accurate and meaningful feedback. Of course there is the third option, too: love your professor (the class was easy and he cancelled a lot)—highest rating! Hate your professor (you learned a lot, but his class took up too much of your time)—lowest rating! 

Do you remember what finals week was like when you were in college? Most students have three things on their minds: passing their exams, making memories with their friends, and getting home for the holidays or for summer. Especially when asked to do it on their own time, the average college student isn’t going to put too much thought into giving thorough and accurate ratings of their professors. 

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