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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | Two random pedagogical observations »

February 24, 2006



Wasn't there an implication that if you weren't above average on the numbers, you were in trouble? This tickles the hell out of me.


I think that there is a correlation between students thinking they haven't got anywhere gradwise in a course and poor evaluations. However, there's also a correlation between students thinking that a course is too easy and poor evaluations. The solution to this is to start off the course grading somewhat severely. This has the benefit of pushing out the students who aren't taking the course seriously and wouldn't give you good evaluations anyhow. Then ease up near the end for the students who are still around and are at least trying hard.

Bruce Williams

National survey data here shows very clearly that compulsory courses rate lower than options simply because they are compulsory. Hence graduates in medicine always rate their learning experience lower than graduates in other disciplines: medicine has lots of compulsory courses.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Jonathan, I've always heard the same thing, and that worries me, since my evaluations are uniformly high. I don't know how to prove that I'm well-liked and a fabulous teacher; esp. because, like Edward, I ride the students hard early, thereby eliminating those students who wouldn't be willing to do the work; then I ease up a bit, but still work them harder then most other instructors. The final results are often better grades because, well, I end up with a brighter-than-average class of students who've worked really hard. They earn those inflation suspect grades. This isn't a problem now, but I think it will be when I finally land a position somewhere.


There's also some evidence that charismatic male lecturers will receive better evaluations despite more rigorous grading and that women are penalized more harshly if they fail to be nurturing and "nice." If Professor Churchill's evaluation numbers go up, the effect might owe more to her new efforts to be "nice" than to distributing high grades with a lavish hand.


I was simply referring to an effect, far too well known to name here, attributed to an admirer of Bernard Henri-Lévy.

Exempting Scott's remarks, of course, I will note that, with the possible exception of the article under discussion, every single person who's ever made a comment about teaching evaluations on the internet gets high ones--more or less all the time--and also doesn't inflate grades.

michael gorra

Junior faculty often do suffer from this--at least from the fear that if they're perceived as hard graders, their evaluations will be lower, etc. etc. Which is why it's important for senior faculty to lower student expectations by being hard graders themselves.


It comes down to self-respect. Be the best tutor you can, the best way you can. And you know if you are a good tutor. That's what matters, not how a flawed system rates you.

As long as they don't actually sack you, be proud to have a lower rating, if the system is at fault, and you know you are a good tutor. Don't be so insecure that you need someone to give you an official gold star and a pat on the head.

No sensible college employs anyone on the basis of stats alone. They talk to them, they look at proper written references. Not numbers.

What would you rather be folks? A good tutor with average or even below average grades, or a poor tutor with great grades, fiddling a crocked system at the expense of your students and your self respect?

Melissa Aaron

I've been giving this one a bit of thought lately. If Professor Churchill is worried, and of course you're right that required courses skew low and comp courses even lower, then the thing to do, in order to justify one's wonderfulness, is to sit down and have some Fun With Numbers. What I mean by that is that it's a good idea to calculate overall average, and then to calculate separately the comp courses, the required courses, the major courses, the grad courses. Then go back and check--were there any reasons that the numbers were low that time?--and write up something explaining this. Once, I tried out having my Shakespeare class do a group project with an instructional web page. The eval numbers were low and the written evaluations, while they aren't officially used at my institution, told me why. Too much. Ten weeks to learn two daunting subjects (Shakespeare and Dreamweaver), one of which they hadn't anticipated. They were right and I haven't done it since. I wasn't penalized for this; instead, I've been praised for being willing to try new things and take chances.

There are better ways to improve evaluation numbers than by pandering. Why not try handing out a midterm survey asking about how the class is doing? I used to have an online one called "1-800-How'm-I-Driving" and students seemed to feel that at least their opinions mattered a bit. If there's a requirement and it's important, stick by it. A lot of my students would rather that I didn't make them memorize and perform Shakespeare but I insist that it's important and explain why.

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