The New York Times Magazine for September 21, 2008 is the “College Issue,” with a cover title, “It’s All About Teaching.” Among the articles is one on “Judgment Day” by Mark Oppenheimer. While making the point that there have been over 2,000 studies on the value of student teaching evaluations (i.e., those evaluations which all students are required to fill out at the end of our classes), the research on their utility is still mixed. The article calls attention to the way that the evaluations are subject to particular gender/race biases, how they can reward “entertainment value” over good teaching, how it is difficult to rate the sciences/math (i.e. very vertical curricula) vs. the humanities and social sciences, etc. Oppenheimer closes his article (spoiler alert!) with the following: “When students in the 1960s demanded more say in academic governance, they could not have predicted that their children would play so outsize a role in deciding which professors were fit to teach them. Once there was a student revolution, which then begat a consumer revolution, and along with more variety in the food court and dorm rooms wired for cable, it brought the curious phenomenon of students grading their graders. Whether students are learning more, it’s hard to say. But whatever they believe, they’re asked to say it.”
What do you think? SET’s are required at Oberlin and we have put a fair amount of time trying to make them more reliable and uniform. Are there better ways to evaluate teaching? What would you like to see (other than superlative comments from students on ALL your classes)?