COVID-19 and Teaching Evaluations


The abrupt transition to online teaching, the hasty reorganization or course schedules in light of cancelled classes, and the move to pass/fail grading options characteristic of many schools’ responses to the pandemic will likely affect students opinions of the courses they’re taking and the instructors teaching them.

Under normal circumstances, during this month and next, universities would typically be distributing and collecting student evaluations of teaching (SETs)—despite frequent complaints about their usefulness and accuracy (for example). Are they still planning on doing so during the pandemic? Should they? If they are, what should be done with the results?

Justin Remhof, assistant professor of philosophy at Old Dominion University, wrote in asking about SETs this term and makes an interesting suggestion:

One worry is that some teachers might receive awful evaluations due to the fact that they’ve never taught online before. This could significantly lower their average report scores, which could affect their chances of landing positions in the future. Adjuncts, lecturers, visiting assistant professors, and those aiming to secure positions at teaching schools might be most affected—and I’m not sure a cover letter attempting to explain away low scores will do the trick. Our university has issued “pass/fail” grades for students this semester. Might there be some similar remedy for teaching evaluations? Maybe universities can let teachers “opt out” of having scores negatively affect their overall performance. I was wondering what, if anything, readers have heard from their institutions.

Giving zero weight to this term’s SET numbers in the institutional evaluation of instructors seems reasonable. The Pass/Fail option for SETs might work—though I worry about students using every available outlet, including SETS, to express to their schools their disappointment in their whole college experience this semester, and so issuing undeserved Fails.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) included on their “Principles for Higher Education Response to COVID-19” the following:

Faculty members, particularly adjunct/ contingent faculty and those on the tenure track who are not yet tenured, should be protected against the punitive use of negative teaching evaluations during the period of the disruption (e.g., a quick transition to an online format may create a lack of depth; a faculty member may not have been adequately trained to teach online, etc.).

Inside Higher Ed covered this issue last week, linking to a post by Joshua Eyler, director of faculty development at the University of Mississippi and author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching. He thinks the best option is to cancel the SETs this term:

This, to me, is the most equitable model. This is the option with the least possibility for misuse (because there will not be anything to misuse) and it is the only one that truly levels the playing field.

I know what you’re thinking: but, Josh, don’t we want student feedback on their experience this semester? Yes, we do, but we want different kinds of feedback. Just like with any semester, those faculty who want individualized, formative feedback from their students should be encouraged to create a short survey in Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, etc. to ask their students these questions, or they could work with their friendly neighborhood teaching center to develop such a survey. This is right in our (meaning those who work in teaching centers) wheelhouse!

Secondly, we also want student feedback on the transition process—glitches in the technology, workload across the board, etc.–independent of what is happening with individual courses. We need to develop mechanisms to get this feedback sent directly to IT and the Provost’s Office in ways that are anonymized and that have no impact on a person’s career.

In short, this is a tumultuous semester for everyone. Faculty should not have their careers negatively affected by this disruptive transition, just as students should not have to worry about the effect of all of this on their grades. SETs have an impact on faculty of every stripe—adjuncts, full-time NTT faculty, and tenure-stream faculty. We need to look carefully at how we can address their use in the weeks and months ahead.

Let us know what your university is doing. And if you have an idea of what they should be doing, share it. Thanks.


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Wildcat
Wildcat
1 year ago

Faculty and graduate assistant unions in my state have been going for a model where student evaluations are excluded by default, but can be used by request. I do think there’s a slight tension there between the desire to let people who were able to adapt well and get positive feedback benefit from that and the desire to completely level the playing field. Overall, I think our reasoning has been that as long as we’re not stack-ranking faculty (which isn’t happening), allowing the people with “good” student evaluations to gain a relative benefit doesn’t substantially harm the people who choose to exclude the student evaluations.Report

Asst. Prof. at a SLAC
Asst. Prof. at a SLAC
1 year ago

The private New England liberal arts college I work for has entirely canceled official SETs for this semester, by a near-unanimous vote of the faculty. One of our faculty committees is in the process of designing an alternative, unofficial survey to get our students’ feedback this semester. We have a choice about whether to administer that survey in our classes, and even if we choose to do so, the results will not be automatically shared with the chair of the department (as official SETs for tenure-track faculty are). Report

David Levy
David Levy
1 year ago

My public institution has announced the following:

Although SETs will be administered as is typical, faculty will not be required to submit SET results from the spring 2020 semester for personnel processes. We recognize that teaching conditions have been impacted by the switch to remote learning and want to give faculty the same considerations that we have given to students through modifications to pass/fail grading. Faculty may still consult SET responses to assess their teaching this semester, and may opt to include results in their personnel materials if they choose.Report

Yancy Dominick
Yancy Dominick
1 year ago

My Jesuit school in the Pacific Northwest issued this statement:

The university will use student assessments of teaching from both winter and spring quarters of this year for formative purposes only. They will not be considered in faculty evaluation, including annual performance reviews, mid-probationary review, and tenure and promotion reviews, unless the faculty member requests they be included and considered. Report

TTinCanada
TTinCanada
1 year ago

Our Canadian university suspended the teaching evaluations for this term. We moved online in the last weeks of this term. Report

John Collins
John Collins
1 year ago

I’m at a large regional university. Our SET’s just went out yesterday. The instructions are the same as they were last year. No announcement has been made to the effect that they will be used differently from how they were used before.Report

Stephanie Patridge
Stephanie Patridge
1 year ago

My University has decided against course evaluations in favor of institutional ones. They want to hear what, by students lights, generally went well and what did not, but not at the cost of punishing faculty (smallish, midwestern, comprehensive college–liberal arts + professional programs and a few M.A. programs). They were immediately on this worry.Report

Dan Bonevac
Dan Bonevac
11 months ago

UT-Austin is giving faculty the option of choosing a two-part evaluation: the first part evaluating the first half, in-person part of the course, and the second half evaluating the second-half, online part of the course. There’s been no official policy announcement, but I think only the first part will be treated as student evaluations usually are. The second part is mostly to help us if we have to do this again.Report