It seems that every few months a new study is published demonstrating some kind of problem with student evaluations of teaching. Recently I’ve seen one going around that confirms that students who had access to free chocolate cookies while being taught evaluated their teachers “significantly better” than the control group.
Still, the numerical scores such evaluations provide seem to be what’s emphasized in the formal evaluation of teaching for, say, annual reviews. The situation prompted one philosophy professor, M.G. Piety (Drexel) to write in asking for input on others as to whether this is the case at their institutions.
She notes that her chair asked the department faculty to read a book about pedagogy in higher education. It’s an admirable step, however:
My sense is that these books are going to do little to improve the quality of college and university-level instruction if all the emphasis in annual reviews of faculty falls simply on numerical scores on teaching evaluations, independently of the kinds of assignments that are given in individual courses and the kinds of feedback that are given on those assignments.
In fact, emphasizing mere numerical scores on teaching evaluations could well undermine other efforts to improve the quality of teaching in that instructors who require little of their students and who routinely award high grades often get correspondingly high numerical scores on teaching evaluations, while faculty who give more work and assign a more reasonable distribution of As, Bs, and Cs, etc., often get lower numerical scores on teaching evaluations.
Whether their teaching is evaluated on the basis of numerical scores alone, or whether any attention is paid to more substantive aspects of their teaching, such as the number and type of assignments they give and the nature of the feedback they give on those assignments.
(It might be useful to note what kind of institution you’re at.)