Op-ed: Change the course evaluations

Student X never attends course A but under the mask of anonymity X whines about this course in the evaluation form. Student Y is pleased with the course but does not have time to fill in the evaluation form. So how can then anybody know the truth? Course evaluations in their current form hardly contribute to the quality of education.

Evaluations are overestimated

Kristina Linke: Since I became assistant professor at FEB in 2012, I have been involved in several course evaluations by students. Currently such evaluations seem to be the only tool to evaluate the teaching quality of lecturers. But is that an adequate measurement?

The student participation in the last course evaluations of my faculty was very low: almost half of the courses taught did not meet the threshold requirements and the evaluated courses had response rates between 20 and 50 percent.

The issue is obvious – these evaluations are not representative. Moreover, are students really able to assess what constitutes teaching quality? What about a possible revenge for a strict teacher, or just the acknowledgment of an entertaining teacher?

Help, I have to teach

Sreejita Ghosh: I started as a PhD student last year and I followed a master course. The course coordinators had asked us to give them open feedback at any point of the course since it was being given for the first time.

The class was divided into groups of 4 for doing the assignments. In my group the student who was the most lackadaisical and performed the bare minimum of the assignments, was the one who whined most about the course. There was one such student in almost every group, who would shrug off their responsibilities, bring down the group grade, and blame the professors and teaching assistants for everything.

If issues lied with the course these whining students should have approached the coordinators directly, and not hide behind the mask of anonymity and shoot venomous remarks through the evaluation forms. After observing how menacing some students can be to professors who gave their best, were open to suggestions, and to TAs who helped us out, I am dreading the fact that soon I have to teach.

Anonymity and opinion?

Nicolai Petkov: As professor at this university for 26 years and member of a program committee, I have read nasty anonymous remarks on the courses of reputed colleagues. Bizarre and disrespectful remarks have frustrated young lecturers and made experienced colleagues cynical.

Some 15 years ago my student daughter told me about a course at her faculty that she considered excellent and the opinions of fellow students about it: ‘Why do we need to study all this mathematics? The study must remain pleasant. We pay tuition fees, don’t we?’ I omit the anonymous personal attacks on the demanding teacher.

From that moment on she, the student (and member of the University Council) became disillusioned on the role and value of course evaluations. The fact that these evaluations allow anonymous remarks is at odds with the objective of the university to educate young people to stand up for their opinion.

The teacher is like a hamburger

Lorenzo Squintani: As assistant professor at the Faculty of Law since 2013 I have been involved in several course evaluations. These are followed by a meeting between the administration, some students, and the lecturers.

These meetings follow the highlights from the student evaluations with a very disturbing pattern: the administration focuses predominantly on the ‘points for improvement’ that they read into the students evaluations. The administration expects lecturers to make concessions in the form of more mock exams, more standard answers, or even lowering learning outcomes.

Furthermore, as courses are individually evaluated there is no room for dialogue between lecturers of different, but related courses. Evaluation meetings are, in practice, only a means for the administration to confront lecturers with the negative anonymous remarks that administrators read in student evaluations, reducing lecturers to a hamburger squeezed between students and administration.

It is time to reconsider the role of anonymous course evaluations by students and to find new, constructive and appropriate forms of student feedback and assessment of teaching quality.

Kristina Linke (FEB), Sreejita Ghosh (FSE), Nicolai Petkov (FSE), and Lorenzo Squintani (FL)



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