Margaret Soltan ponders student evaluations; I generally agree with her view that they largely should be taken with a grain of salt—in large part because you’re simply never going to please everyone. Now that I’m a bit more comfortable in my professorial skin, I don’t worry quite so much about them, but it’s not like I can stop thinking about them any time soon.
Speaking of evaluations, how do folks handle written evaluations in job applications? I’ve only ever included my numeric summaries of evaluations, since I couldn’t figure out any sensible way to include the written evals I have, at least, not in any way that would make it obvious that they were student evaluations instead of figments of my own imagination.
Econ prof James D. Miller think colleges need to “fight” RateMyProfessors.com. I don’t know if it needs fighting, per se, but I’d say it’s only marginally valuable. For example, here at Duke I’m allegedly easy but at Millsaps I was easier yet was considered tough (and had the grade distribution to prove it—my classes were consistently below the college’s mean GPA).
That said, I don’t mind student-centered evaluations and have even lauded one effort to compile such things here at Duke, where the “official” evals for last semester are apparently so shrouded in secrecy that I still haven’t seen them 6 weeks after turning in grades. And I don’t even mind student evals in general, although they almost certainly were a factor in my failing upward in the academic universe.
Though, as a political scientist looking for a job, the mentality noted by this commenter (allegedly a faculty member in my field) is somewhat disturbing:
I have been to two academic conferences within the year (academic year 2005–06) where colleagues were running tenure-track job searches (political science) and when I made recommendations regarding two individuals who I thought might be a good fit for both jobs, I received subsequent emails that,“after having checked RMP” (talk about unprofessional behavior!!!) there were “concerns” whether either of the recommended colleagues could teach in liberal arts enviornment. Clearly RMP is being looked at by folks on search committees. Don’t believe for a minute that after having looked at RMP folks are not influenced by what they read. And don’t believe that search committee members are not going directly to RMP to, as I was told, “a snapshot” of job candidates. AAUP and the national associations for the various disciplines ought to step in on this debate and come down clearly on RMP and its use in job searches etc.
I got my written evaluations today, and while some of it was bizarrely contradictory (some people complaining that my lecture was too much like the book outline, others complaining that the tests and lecture had nothing to do with each other even though the tests came from the book materials!) I got a rather odd comment that I’d made “occasional anti-Catholic remarks and jokes” in my civil liberties class. I suppose there are a few things that could be stretched that way (mostly, a few Louisiana jokes), and maybe even a few things that could be construed as anti-religious in general (I generally stay away from that soapbox, although I will make an occasional “Ten Suggestions” joke for the Methodists in the audience), but I don’t remember singling out Catholics in particular. Weird.
Well, the real evaluations—rather than the fake ones here—are in, and they’re much better than those from last semester, by well over a standard deviation. (
I’d sit down and do the independent samples t test, but I’m not that bored. t test below the fold…)
I’m just chalking this one up as yet another in a series of little ironies that have been running around for the past couple of months.
The result of the t test: p(I am not a better teacher now than I was in the fall) < 0.00062. I feel so much better now.