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Reevaluate course evaluations

The University should implement required student and peer review for faculty

To better assess the performance of our professors, the University should revamp course evaluations. As voluntary, typically anonymous forms, course evaluations do not adequately assist professors with teaching improvement. In order to better its system of pedagogical evaluations, the University should consider implementing compulsory, non-anonymous course evaluation forms complemented by peer review from other professors each semester.

Student evaluations suffer from response bias, as those who complete them are self-selected volunteers, which overrepresents individuals with strong positive or negative opinions. Requiring all students to complete an evaluation for each of their classes in order to view their course grades would alleviate this issue. Compulsory evaluations would be more helpful for professors in that they would allow them to consider a broader range of student criticisms of their courses.

Anonymity also introduces the online disinhibition effect to student evaluations. Evaluations that conceal the identities of those who submit them may cause teaching criticism to be less constructive than it would be if the evaluations were not anonymous. The purpose of anonymity in student evaluations is unclear. If the purpose of an anonymous evaluation is to prevent professors from penalizing a student for a bad review, then the University has already solved that problem: professors do not see their evaluations until after the submission of grades. And if a student feels so negatively about a course that she would submit a scathing evaluation, it would be hard to imagine her enrolling in another one of the professor’s courses.

One may also suggest the use of peer evaluations in which fellow faculty members observe professors’ lectures in order to assess the quality of their teaching. For one, assessing the effectiveness of teaching with both student and peer review lessens higher education’s dependence on student evaluations, which, at their worst, may move higher education toward a consumer model. A system that uses student evaluations exclusively may encourage young professors to entertain rather than educate, especially as they rely on student evaluations to become full professors. Peer review may promote particular attention to the rigor and effectiveness of a professor’s instruction, which our faculty may find helpful. Peer evaluation throughout the semester would also allow for formative evaluations of teaching that would accompany the summative evaluation provided by students at the end of a course. That way, professors can adjust their teaching methods according to the feedback they receive from their peers. Professors who review other professors’ courses may also learn from their colleagues’ teaching methods.

Furthermore, higher education already uses peer review to ensure the quality of research and scholarship in academia. It would be reasonable to apply the same standard of peer review to pedagogy. Researchers receive assessments from other experts in their field; similarly, teachers should receive assessments from other experts in teaching. Research is a collaborative enterprise — by introducing that collaborative spirit to pedagogy, universities can promote a community that fosters teacher development, which would elevate the importance of teaching to the level of research for professors for whom teaching takes a backseat.

At large institutions where research is a focal point, it is important to ensure quality of instruction. By instituting a system of compulsory, non-anonymous student evaluations coupled with peer evaluations, the University can more effectively provide professors with tools to improve their teaching.