Sunday, July 04, 2010

Stanley Fish: Good Teaching and Student Evaluations (II)

Professor Stanley Fish
In Sartorial Splendor
(Image from Stanley Fish's Bio)

On June 24th, I posted a first blog enty on Professor Stanley Fish's critique of student evaluations. He now has a follow-up in his "Opinionator" column, "Student Evaluations, Part Two" (NYT, June 28, 2010), in which various instructors offer their horror stories of such evaluations:
[Such as] the teacher who, after having moved a class to a morning hour in response to student requests, found himself pilloried by those same students for making them get up too early; the teacher who was negatively reviewed by students who had never shown up (they needed to turn in an evaluation in order to get credit for the class they had not attended) . . . .

[Evaluations] can also lead to the abandoning or blighting of a career. Posters report variously that they left teaching altogether or moved to a foreign country where the "customer" mentality had not yet set in or stuck it out for 30 years while becoming ever more bitter and disillusioned. Even those who are aware that there is little correlation between student evaluations and effective teaching (the preponderance of studies document this non-correlation) and therefore know that negative comments do not reflect an informed judgment are nevertheless pained and humiliated by them . . . .
I've got news for Professor Fish. Some foreign countries have already adopted the "customer mentality perspective." Some instructors, however, resist:
A Teacher lets it all hang out and speaks for many: "Sorry kids, you are not the authority in the classroom. Me Teacher. You student. Me Teach , you learn. End of discussion . . . Education is not a business. You are not my customer. My classroom is not Burger King. You do not get to 'have it your way.'"
I ought sometimes to have said it like that to students with the 'customer' attitude . . . but articulations aside, the significant point is Professor Fish's reference to "the preponderance of studies document[ing] . . . [the] non-correlation" . . . "between student evaluations and effective teaching ."

Professor Fish's column is nonacademic and thus cites no sources, but I'm curious about the studies alluded to, for I would like to have cited such studies in previous years when issues of this sort arose in discussions over good teaching . . .

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At 8:44 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Negative evaluations hurt, I'm sure, but they're not the worst that can happen. A friend of ours was fingered as the BTK killer by an unhappy university student. Fortunately, he had an air tight alibi (like, not even living in the area at the time of those murders). Teaching has become very tough, these days.


Happy Independence Day, Jeffery.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger John B said...

I'd like to mention that all the course evaluation noise has ignored the problems that I've run across the most at the university. Apathetic or underprepared graduate student instructors (I've had some good ones, and some very, very bad ones), old tenured professors who ignore the department, the curriculum, etc, and finally bad course curricula.

The course evaluations are intended to identify problems like that. I don't know if they work, but whenever I'm in a bad course I'm careful to point that out in my evaluations.

Of course, these problems come from structural problems in the school system. Grad students are expected to teach poorly, being the academic equivalent of migrant labor. Old tenured professors can do anything they want, because, you know, tenure. And bad courses are designed by committee with contradictory goals. So when students try to point that out in course evaluations, they just get ignored, because otherwise people have to fix real problems in academia.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, that's a new one. Was the student serious about the accusation, or merely malicious?

Thanks for the holiday wishes, and the same to you.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, you're right, of course, about the use of graduate students and the poor quality of too much teaching, as well as the plethora of badly designed courses.

Fixing things looks to be almost impossible.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:11 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Malicious. Cops had to check it out, of course, but they all had a nervous laugh about it.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, I presume that the student faced some charges for that false accusation.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Students are not customers. They are stakeholders along with parents, teachers, and the community. Success happens when all stakeholders support and work towards common outcomes.

Students in my classroom don't get to have it "their way," but they do get choices. Giving limited choices when possible is a fundamental best practice. Learners are more likely to complete an activity or comply with an expectation if they have some choice in the matter.


At 9:47 PM, Blogger The Red Witch said...

@Apathetic or underprepared graduate student instructors (I've had some good ones, and some very, very bad ones), old tenured professors who ignore the department, the curriculum, etc, and finally bad course curricula

I've come across that. It doesn't seem like course evaluations do anything to change that. Maybe it is used as a justification to keep full profs on contract rather than give them tenure. I have looked at Rate My and the comments on there are accurate for the profs I have taken courses with.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like to give choice when I teach research writing. I think that students work best when they can research something that interests them.

There's always the temptation for them to simply purchase an essay, of course, so that means more work for me to prevent plagiarism, but the results are generally worth the time and trouble.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

RW, nothing works perfectly, of course, and even student evaluations can offer something of value if properly balanced -- if the right questions are asked.

Jeffery Hodges

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