Rate My Professor

Dr. John A. McArthur teaches in the Knight-Crane Convergence Laboratory in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte

The end of the term is upon us. And, once again, the time for course evaluations has come.

The sum total of my experience with course evaluations leads me to believe that many mis-perceptions exist surrounding the infamous end-of-term ratings.

Here are some of the most frequent, from students and professors alike:

MYTH ONE: “No one reads course evaluations.”
In most universities, the faculty member, the department chair, the dean, and the academic affairs office all have access to the evaluations. They see every comment written by every student. Those evaluations are entered into the professor’s file. In addition, if the professor ever seeks employment at another college, the college will often request copies of past course evaluations.

MYTH TWO: “Course evaluations aren’t valid.”
Some professors like to use this line as an excuse if they get poor evaluations, and often they may be right. Validity is threatened by classes of students who don’t take evaluations seriously, skip over important questions, or fail to answer honestly. In many cases they neglect to turn in evaluations at all. Course evaluations can be valid if all students respond, if the evaluation is thoughtfully designed, and if students and professors take them seriously.

MYTH THREE: “Course evaluations don’t make a difference.”
A good course evaluation system is summative and formative. A summative evaluation captures a student’s perspective about his/her own learning and how the classroom content, the student-teacher interaction, and the professor encouraged learning. A formative evaluation offers the instructor suggestions for change and the opportunity to improve.

Many of my colleagues read their course evaluations with great interest, noting suggestions for improvement. This is the process that improves our teaching. Evaluations can be very disappointing if they don’t offer any help. This is an appropriate time for a student to say, ” I was bored when we (fill in the blank). What if we tried (blank),” or “I really liked (blank) strategy. More of that would be great.”

MYTH FOUR: “Course evaluations are a waste of time.”
The best professors I know use their evaluations very intentionally. They seek to improve their own teaching and strive to do their work better. Course evaluations are one way to help.

If you’ve heard other myths about course evaluations, pass them along. But then, take the evaluations seriously and give some real feedback.

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