Professor evaluations are powerful tools for school and university administrators to assess the performance and the teaching abilities of the professors. For students, there is a certain amount of power, or at least a voice, to give feedback on how well or bad their professors are. However good the intentions are for conducting evaluations, the implementation isn’t always as easy and there are several factors that complicate the process:
- Bias – Of course, in the same way that professors can also be biased and give higher grades to favorite students, students can also exercise the same power during evaluation time. Students who are given low grades can be seen to give unfavorable evaluations of their professors in return. Thus, administrators should know how to balance the differences in evaluations and identify ones that are biased.
- Timing – If administrators conduct the evaluations at the end of the semester, then professors have no time or chances to adjust their teaching style or make improvements until the semester after. Feedback should be given at an earlier point, for example during the middle of the semester, wherein students can already identify areas for improvement that the professors can work on for the rest of the semester. Administrators can also do an endpoint evaluation at the end of the semester, to assess whether professors acted on the feedback and suggestions and teaching styles have been improved. This way, evaluations truly become the feedback tools they are meant to be.
- Consequences – Although performance is almost always connected to rewards or worse, sanctions, the use of student evaluations alone can make it unfair to the professors being rated. If professors knew that their performance affects their job or their pay, then some will no longer do a good job and simply do what they can to impress the students. After all, sometimes the students don’t really know that what the professor is doing is best for them. For example, a professor can end up giving a lot of readings to give students various approaches rather than just one theory. And students might not always be happy about that. Administrators should balance student evaluations with other forms of information – teacher observations, student performance and the like – to form a fuller picture of the professor’s performance on the job.
Student evaluations of professor performance should be understood and respected by both students and administrators alike that these are tools to improve professors’ teaching. It is only in this way that evaluations can be done properly and used critically. After all, students stand to benefit in the end, with getting better professors and more learning.
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