Mari K. Hopper, PhD
Sam Houston State University
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.