For What They’re Worth: Students Evaluations

Someone I follow on Twitter (I don’t remember who) posts his student evaluations. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but I’ve been waiting to get my Spring 2013 evaluations before writing a post about my own.

First things first–student evaluations are problematic for a number of reasons. They typically are not written well, are simplistic in the data that they try to capture, and are statistically invalid. They also speak to the consumerism of higher education, in that they usually ask customer service-type questions. Finally, student evaluations sometimes ask students, who are not well-qualified to speak to a professor’s pedagogical or disciplinary qualifications, questions about that professor’s expertise. Frankly, I’m not sure they’re all that much better than RMP ratings. (My own are here and here.) Regardless, they are not-so-useful tools that aren’t going anywhere soon. [1] [2]

Below you will find several different tables. I did this more as an intellectual exercise for me, but poke around if you’re interested.

Table 1. Avg. Evaluation and Satisfaction Scores for Individual Courses Taught, F08-Sp13. (See footnotes [3] and [4] for explanation of scoring.)

 Course Avg. Score Satisfaction
HIS 201 (Hist. of U.S. I) 3.84 5.6
HIS 202 (Hist. of U.S. II) 3.7 5.78
HIS 225 (Intro. to Historical Methods) 3.89 6.5
HIS 300 (Civil War) 3.72 6.04
HIS 305 (Conspiracy Theories) 3.9 6.47
HIS/POLSC 340 (American Presidency) 3.65 6.2
HIS 401 (Jacksonian Democracy) 3.9 5.8
HIS 415 (Emergence of Modern America) 3.7 —-
HIS 420 (Old South) 3.84 5.8

Table 2. Avg. Evaluation and Satisfaction Scores for Individual Semesters, F08-Sp13. (See footnotes [3] and [4] for explanation of scoring.)

Semester Avg. score Satisfaction
F08 3.7 —-
Sp09 3.58 —-
F09 [5] —- —-
Sp10 3.69 —-
F10 3.82 5.51
Sp11 3.95 6.27
F11 3.84 5.89
Sp12 3.89 6.11
F12 3.72 6.08
Sp13 3.79 5.49

Table 3. Avg. Evaluation and Satisfaction Scores for Individual Questions, F08-Sp13. (See what students are asked to evaluate in footnote [6]. See footnotes [3] and [4] for explanation of scoring.)

Questions Semester
F08 Sp09 Sp10 F10 Sp11 F11 Sp12 F12 Sp13 Total
1. Well-prepared 3.83 3.66 3.77 3.97 4 3.89 3.9 3.89 3.8 3.86
2. Answers questions effectively 3.68 3.52 3.74 3.82 3.9 3.8 3.85 3.72 3.8 3.76
3. Clear presention 3.72 3.52 3.66 3.86 3.95 3.86 3.88 3.62 3.8 3.76
4. Accessibility 3.64 3.51 3.56 3.73 3.9 3.76 3.87 3.67 3.7 3.71
5. Class relevancy 3.83 3.64 3.73 3.91 3.96 3.87 3.89 3.79 3.8 3.82
6. Clear requirements 3.74 3.52 3.73 3.81 3.96 3.84 3.9 3.59 3.8 3.76
7. Clear grading criteria 3.45 3.49 3.58 3.77 3.93 3.78 3.88 3.61 3.7 3.69
8. Exams reported in timely fashion time 3.67 3.66 3.64 3.79 3.96 3.84 3.9 3.77 3.8 3.78
9. Assignments reported in timely fashion 3.76 3.67 3.76 3.75 3.96 3.89 3.9 3.81 3.7 3.8
10. Courteous and professional 3.55 3.41 3.67 3.72 3.96 3.81 3.85 3.64 3.8 3.71
11. Begins on time 3.87 3.82 3.72 3.91 3.95 3.9 3.92 3.8 3.9 3.86
12. Satisfaction —- —- —- 5.51 6.27 5.89 6.11 6.08 5.5 5.89

[1]. One of the problems with our university’s student evaluation system is that students who fail a course for academic dishonesty are still allowed to complete a course evaluation. This past spring, I also had one course in which a student who dropped midway through the semester was able to complete a course evaluation. I’m not aware of other examples of this latter problem in my previous courses.

[2]. Student evaluations at our university are conducted online, and students cannot access their final course scores until they complete the course evaluation.

[3]. I assigned the following values to the four possible student evaluation answers: 4=Almost always, 3=Usually, 2=Rarely, 1=Never. I did not count answers of “Not applicable.”

[4]. I assigned the following values to the seven possible student evaluation answers: 1=very dissatisfied, 2=dissatisfied, 3=somewhat dissatisfied, 4=neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 5=somewhat satisfied, 6=satisfied, 7=very satisfied. These scores are calculated separately from the average evaluation score described in footnote 2.

[5]. Due to a technological error, student evaluation scores were not collected this semester.

[6]. Students are asked to evaluate the following:

1.  Instructor appears to be well prepared for each class.
2.  Instructor answers student’s questions effectively.
3.  Instructor presents material clearly.
4.  Instructor is accessible to talk with students on course matters outside of class.
5.  Class sessions are relevant to course subject matter.
6.  Course requirements are clear.
7.  Grading criteria for the course as a whole are clear.
8.  Considering the type of exams, the results are reported within a reasonable amount of time by the instructor.
9.  Considering the type of assignments, the results are reported within a reasonable amount of time by the instructor.
10.  Instructor treats students in a courteous and/or professional manner.
11.  The class begins at scheduled times.
12. On a scale of 1-7, overall, how satisfied were you with this course?

Students are also asked whether classes end early, late, or on time, but for some reason, that question is not evaluated in the same way as #11.

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2 Replies to “For What They’re Worth: Students Evaluations”

  1. Mark,
    I agree with your points about the customer service type questions, and numerical rankings are rather arbitrary. The quantification of these evaluations can certainly a misleading indicator on teacher performance. An open comments section, however, can be useful. Where I teach part-time we also have the option to add a question, which I like to make something like “What would you have liked to have learned more about? Less about?” That is useful information for me, especially teaching such broad and sweeping courses as USA 1865 to present.

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