Instructor Evaluations: Do they really matter?

Dec. 8, 2008 by Dustin Edwards NMSU Round Up

Each semester students have an opportunity to voice opinions about their teachers through course and instructor evaluations. But how much clout do evaluations have over NMSU professors?

Peter Gregware, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said instructor evaluations play a major part in assessing teaching effectiveness.

“The student evaluations become part of the faculty’s overall yearly evaluation,” Gregware said. “It is very much taken into account.”

Gregware said department heads examine all instructor evaluations and look for patterns of negligence. Gregware said faculty is given the opportunity to respond and increase their teaching effectiveness, but said repeated negative patterns have consequences.

“Ultimately severe negatives can affect employability, pay levels and/or assignments,” Gregware said.

Kathleen Brook, associate dean of the College of Business, said although student evaluations have a “substantial significance,” the evaluations are not the only way faculty is measured. She said faculty is also evaluated based on teaching load-size and teaching innovation.

As an approach to improve teaching methods, Brook said it is helpful for faculty to view evaluations from students.

“We expect all continuing faculty to be more than adequate in the classroom,” Brook said.

Michael Morehead, interim dean of the College of Education, said department heads look at many aspects of an instructor’s curriculum to develop faculty performance evaluations. Morehead explained that syllabi, assignments within syllabi and approaches to teaching all affect the overall evaluation of faculty.

“When it comes to merit allocations, some departments will use student evaluations as one piece of information to determine merit,” Morehead said.

Former department head Robert Rhodes said instructors with repeated low marks on student evaluations are asked to take measures to increase their teaching effectiveness, such as attending the NMSU Teaching Academy.

“If evaluations are particularly bad, they may never work with us again,” said Rhodes, in reference to adjunct faculty or graduate assistants. “If faculty members are doing particularly well, it can help for promotion and tenure.”

Rhodes said the questions on student evaluations are department generated, with general questions and space for students to leave comments.

“I rely a lot on the comments, because it’s where the student is most concerned or most pleased,” Rhodes said.

Gregware said he also encouraged students to give comments on their evaluations. He added that constructive, logical and rational comments help identify particular strengths and weaknesses of faculty.

As an approach to encourage constructive feedback, Brook said most business classes offer instructor evaluations through WebCT. She said WebCT responses provide more feedback about the course and instructor.

Amid a tumultuous period of finals, term papers and final projects, Brittany Butler, a junior English student, said faculty-administered evaluations are often bypassed by students with little care.

“I think they are tedious and are slanted in the professor’s favor,” Butler said.

Butler said instructor ratings from online sources, such as ratemyprofessors.com and myspace.com are more helpful for students.

“I think the Web site evaluations are a realistic representation of what you’re getting into–be it good or bad,” Butler said.

With instructor evaluations made accessible to everyone, online professor ratings sites have become wildly popular at NMSU, with 551 professors listed on ratemyprofessors.com.

With 39 ratings, Harold Tollefson, a history professor at NMSU, has the most ratings on the site.

“He’s so quirky! I loved his class and I learned so much. You can’t help but get excited about history in his class,” an anonymous post said of Tollefson.

The site grants students a chance to rate professors according to easiness, helpfulness, clarity, and rater interest. Students can also indicate whether or not a professor is “hot,” denoted by a chile pepper.

With a chile pepper adorning his name, Tom Smith, department head and associate professor of theater arts, maintains 9 out of 10 ratings in the “hot” category, the highest at NMSU.

“Great class, professor is super sweet, plus I have a crush on him,” an anonymous post said of Smith.

Trinity Webb, a senior HRTM major said she chose three classes based on myspace.com’s “grade my professor” application.

Webb said she felt faculty-administered evaluations are often inaccurate.

“I usually just fill out the bubbles, unless I really don’t like the professor,” Webb said. “I don’t think the majority of the evaluations are accurate, because a lot of us students just rush through them.”

Morehead said that online reporting of professors will be in the “extremes,” and encouraged students to find other ways to pick classes, such as advisement from a friend or faculty member.

“Sometimes you miss your best classes by avoiding the difficult ones,” Rhodes said.


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