Accessible Course Evaluations

Mark Sample, professor of Contemporary American Literature and New Media Studies in the English Department at George Mason University, is a smart fellow. I knew that even through the 140-character bursts from his Twitter account, but then he went and wrote this thought-provoking blog post: “Transparency, Teaching, and Taking My Evaluations Public”, the bottom line of which is this statement:

In addition to my research, I believe the other half of my job—teaching undergraduate and graduate students—should be as public as possible. Even if I weren’t an employee of the Commonwealth of Virginia, working in a publicly funded state university, I would still argue that virtually all aspects of my job—what I earn, what I teach, what my students think about my teaching—should be transparent.

Sample goes on to describe how he (and many others, myself included) makes his course material public (online syllabi, assignments, etc) but that students/other instructors/interested parties have no easy way to learn about the effectiveness of his pedagogy—the “system” is not terribly useful, as he reminds us “these ratings are based upon a professor’s charisma or workload, rather than any kind of systematic statistical data. (Is a chili pepper statistically significant?) These sites tell us what a few self-selected students think about a professor, not what they think about a professor’s teaching.”

Sample’s solution? Post all of his evaluations, “complete with every single enthusiastic or blistering or apathetic student comment.”

My initial thought was “Yes. That’s wonderful. I want to do the same!” Then I remembered I don’t have a job yet. Technically I’m still a PhD student and not even blessed with the magical title of “PhD candidate” yet. Then I said to myself, “self, so what?”

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