Student evaluation of teaching (SET) has been utilized and
studied for over 100 years. Originally, SET was designed by faculty to gather
information from students in order to improve personal teaching methods (Remmers
and Guthrie, 1927). Over time, SET became increasingly common. Reports in the
literature indicate 29% of institutions of higher education employed this
resource in 1973, 68% in 1983, 86% in
1993, and 94.2% in 2010 (Seldin, 1993).
Today, SET is employed almost universally, and has become a
routine task for both faculty and students. While deployment of this instrument
has increased, impact with faculty has declined. A study published in 2002
indicated only 2-10% of instructors reported major teaching changes based on
SET (Nasser & Fresko, 2002). However, results of SET has become
increasingly important in making impactful faculty decisions including
promotion and tenure, merit pay, and awards. A study by Miller and Seldin
(2010), reported that 99.3% Deans use SET in evaluating their faculty (Miller
& Seldin, 2014)
The literature offers a rich discussion of issues related to
SET including bias, validity, reliability, and accuracy. Although discussions
raise concern for current use of SET, institutions continue to rely on SET for
multiple purposes. As a consequence, it has become increasingly important that
students offer feedback that is informative, actionable, and professional. It
would also be helpful to raise student awareness of the scope, implications,
and potential impact of SET results.
To that end, I offer the following suggestions for helping
students become motivated and effective evaluators of faculty:
Inform students of changes made based on evaluations from last semester/year
Share information concerning potential bias (age, primary language, perception of grading leniency, etc.)
Inform of full use including departmental and campus wide (administrative decisions, awards, P & T, etc,)
Establish a standard of faculty performance for each rating on the Likert scale (in some cases a 3 may be the more desirable indicator)
Inform students of professionalism, and the development of professional identity. Ask students to write only what they would share in face-to-face conversation.
Ask students to exercise caution and discrimination – avoid discussing factors out of faculty control (class size, time offered, required exams, classroom setting, etc.)
If indicating a faculty behavior is unsatisfactory – offer specific reasons
When writing that a faculty member display positive attributes – be sure to include written comments of factual items, not just perceptions and personal feelings
Give students examples of USEFUL and NOT USEFUL feedback
Distinguish between ‘anonymous’ and ‘blinded’ based on your school’s policy
Although technology has made the administration of SET nearly
invisible to faculty, it is perhaps time for faculty to re-connect with the
original purpose. It is also appropriate for faculty to be involved in the
process of developing SET instruments, and screening questions posed to their
students. Additionally, it is our responsibility to help students develop
proficiency in offering effective evaluation. Faculty have the opportunity, and
perhaps a responsibility, to determine the usefulness and impact of SET for the
next 100 years.
Please share your ideas about how we might return to the original purpose of SET – to inform our teaching. I would also encourage you to share instructions you give your students just prior to administering SET.
Mari K. Hopper, PhD, is currently the Associate Dean for
Biomedical Sciences at Sam Houston State University Proposed College of
Osteopathic Medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Physiology from Kansas State
University. She was trained as a physiologist with special interest in maximum
capabilities of the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems. Throughout her
academic career she has found immense gratification in working with students in
the classroom, the research laboratory, and in community service positions. Dr
Hopper has consistently used the scholarly approach in her teaching, and earned
tenure and multiple awards as a result of her contributions in the area of
scholarship of teaching and learning. She has focused on curriculum development
and creating curricular materials that challenge adult learners while engaging
students to evaluate, synthesize, and apply difficult concepts. At SHSU she
will lead the development of the basic science curriculum for the first two
years of medical school. Dr Hopper is very active in professional organizations
and currently serves as the Chapter Advisory Council Chair for the American
Physiological Society, the HAPS Conference Site Selection Committee, and
Past-President of the Indiana Physiological Society. Dr Hopper has four grown
children and a husband David who is a research scientist.
Ah, the summer season has begun! I
love this time of year, yes for the sun and the beach and baseball games and
long, lazy summer reading, but also because it gets me thinking about new
beginnings. I’ve always operated on a school-year calendar mindset, so if
you’re like me, you’re probably reflecting on the successes and shortcomings of
the past year, preparing for the upcoming fall semester, or maybe even
launching into a new summer semester now. As campuses become more diverse,
fostering an inclusive learning environment becomes increasingly important, yet
the prospect of how to do so can be daunting. So where to start?
First, recognize that there is not just one
way to create an inclusive
classroom. Often, the most effective tactics you use
may be discipline-, regional-, campus-, or classroom-specific. Inclusive
teaching is a student-oriented mindset, a way of thinking that challenges you
to maximize opportunities for all students to connect with you, the course
material, and each other.
Second, being proactive before a
semester begins can save you a lot of time, headaches, and conflict down the
road. Set aside some dedicated time to critically evaluate your course
structure, curriculum, assignments, and language choices before ever
interacting with your students. Consider which voices, perspectives, and
examples are prominent in your class materials, and ask yourself which ones are
missing and why. Try to diversify the mode of content representation (lectures,
videos, readings, discussions, hands-on activities, etc.) and/or assessments
types (verbal vs. diagrammed, written vs. spoken, group vs. individual, online
vs. in-class, etc.). Recognize the limits of your own culture-bound
assumptions, and, if possible, ask for feedback from a colleague whose
background differs from your own.
Third, know that you don’t have to
change everything all at once. If you are developing an entirely new
course/preparation, you’ll have less time to commit to these endeavors than you
might for a course you’ve taught a few times already. Recognize that
incremental steps in the right direction are better than completely
overwhelming yourself and your students to the point of ineffectiveness (Trust
me, I’ve tried and it isn’t pretty!)
Below, I have included some practical
ways to make a classroom more inclusive, but this list is far from
comprehensive. As always, feedback is much appreciated!
Part 1: Course Structure and Student Feedback
These strategies require the largest
time commitment to design and implement, but they are well worth the effort.
opportunities for collaborative learning in the classroom. Active learning activities can better engage
diverse students, and this promotes inclusivity by allowing students from
diverse backgrounds to interact with one another. Furthermore, heterogeneous
groups are usually better
problem-solvers than homogeneous ones.
variety of learning activity types in order to reach different kinds of
learners. Use poll questions,
case studies, think-pair-share, jigsaws, hands-on activities, oral and written assignments, etc.
texts/readings whose language is gender-neutral or stereotype-free, and if you
run across a problem after the fact, point out the text’s shortcomings in class
and give students the opportunity to discuss it.
Promote a growth
mindset. The language you use in the classroom can have a surprising impact on
student success, even when you try to be encouraging. How many of us have said
to our students before a test, “You all are so smart. I know you can do this!”?
It sounds innocent enough, but this language conveys that “being smart” determines
success rather than hard work. Students with this fixed mindset are more likely
to give up when confronted with a challenge because they don’t think they are
smart/good/talented enough to succeed. Therefore, when we encourage our
students before an assessment or give them feedback afterwards, we must always
address their effort and their work, rather than assigning attributes (positive
or negative) to them as people.
Convey the same
level of confidence in the abilities of all your students. Set high
expectations that you believe all students can achieve, emphasizing the
importance of hard work and effort. Perhaps the biggest challenge is
maintaining high expectations for every student, even those who have performed
poorly in the past. However, assuming
a student just can’t cut it based on one low exam grade may be as damaging as
assuming a student isn’t fit due to their race, gender, background, etc.
Be evenhanded in
praising your students. Don’t go overboard as it makes students feel like you
don’t expect it of them.
Part 2: Combating Implicit Bias
Every one of us harbors biases,
including implicit biases that form outside of our conscious awareness. In some
cases, our implicit biases may even run counter to our conscious values. This
matters in the classroom because implicit bias can trigger self-fulfilling
prophecies by changing stereotyped groups’ behaviors to conform to stereotypes,
even when the stereotype was initially untrue. Attempting to suppress our
biases is likely to be counterproductive, so we must employ other strategies to
ensure fairness to all our students.
Become aware of
your own biases, by assessing them with tools like the Harvard Implicit
Association Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html) or by self-reflection. Ask yourself: Do I
interact with men and women in ways that create double standards? Do I assume
that members of one group will need extra help in the classroom – or
alternatively, that they will outperform others? Do I undervalue comments made
by individuals with a different accent than my own?
cultures different than your own. Read authors with diverse backgrounds.
Express a genuine interest in other cultural traditions. Exposure to different
groups increases your empathy towards them.
Take extra care
to evaluate students on individual bases rather than social categorization /
group membership. Issues related to group identity may be especially enhanced
on college campuses because this is often the first time for students to affirm
their identity and/or join single-identity organizations / groups.
complexity of diversity. No person has just one identity. We all belong to
multiple groups, and differences within groups may be as great as those across
interactions in the classroom between different social groups. Even if you
choose to let students form their own groups in class, mix it up with jigsaw
activities, for example.
examples in your lectures, case studies, and exams.
grading practices, such as clearly-defined rubrics, anonymous grading, grading
question by question instead of student by student, and utilize activities with
some group points and some individual points.
Part 3: Day-to-Day Classroom Culture
These suggestions fall under the
“biggest bang for your buck” category. They don’t require much time to
implement, but they can go a long way to making your students feel more welcome
in your classroom.
images, names, examples, analogies, perspectives, and cultural references in
your teaching. Keep this in mind when you choose pictures/cartoons for your
lectures, prepare in-class or take-home activities, and write quiz/test
questions. Ask yourself if the examples you are using are only familiar or
relevant to someone with your background. If so, challenge yourself to make it
accessible to a wider audience.
Pay attention to
your terminology and be willing to adjust based on new information. This may be
country-, region-, or campus-specific,
and it may change over time (e.g. “minority” vs. “historically
underrepresented”). When in doubt, be more specific rather
than less (e.g. “Korean” instead of
“Asian”; “Navajo” instead of “Native American”).
Use inclusive and
non-gendered language whenever possible (e.g. “significant other/partner”
instead of “boyfriend/husband,” “chairperson” instead of “chairman,”
“parenting” instead of “mothering”).
Make a concerted
effort to learn your students’ names AND pronunciations. Even if it takes you a
few tries, it is a meaningful way to show your students you care about them as
important historical and current contributions to your field made by
scientists belonging to underrepresented groups.
Limit barriers to
learning. You will likely have a list of your own, but here are a few I’ve
materials before class so that students can take notes on them during class.
Use a microphone
to make sure all students can hear you clearly.
Dyslexie font on your slides to make it easier for dyslexic students to read
Speak slowly and
limit your use of contractions so that non-native-English speakers can
understand you more easily.
points on the board that remain there for the whole class period, including the
main points for that lecture, important dates coming up, and key assignments.
Be sensitive to
students whose first language is not English and don’t punish them unnecessarily
for misusing idioms.
As a final parting message, always try
to be mindful of your students’ needs, but know that you don’t have everything
figured out at the outset. Make time to reevaluate your approach, class
materials, and activities to see
where improvements can be made. Challenge yourself to continually improve and
hone better practices. Listen to your students, and be mindful with the
feedback you ask them to give you in mid-semester and/or course evaluations.
For more information, I recommend the
Davis, BG. “Diversity and Inclusion in the
Classroom.” Tools for Teaching (2nd Ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
A Wiley Imprint. p 57 – 71. Print.
Weise Cross is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Millersville University,
beginning in the fall of 2019, where she will be teaching courses in
Introductory Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Nutrition. Laura received a
B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. in Molecular and
Cellular Pathology from the University of North Carolina. She recently
completed her post-doctoral training in the Department of Cell Biology &
Physiology at the University of New Mexico, where she studied the molecular
mechanisms of hypoxia-induced pulmonary hypertension. Laura’s research is
especially focused on how hypoxia leads to structural remodeling of the
pulmonary vessel wall, which is characterized by excessive vascular smooth
muscle cell proliferation and migration. She looks forward to engaging
undergraduate students in these projects in her new research lab.