Oct 022018
 

During the busy summer season, the USFA published an e-Letter about the Ryerson Arbitration on teaching evaluations, where the arbitrator ordered that student-based evaluations of teaching not be used to measure teaching effectiveness in tenure and promotion cases, effective immediately. The decision stated that the evaluations “are imperfect at best and downright biased and unreliable at worst”.  The arbitration decision is the result of the decade-long, dedicated efforts of the Ryerson Faculty Association and has engendered widespread discussion amongst academics across the country.

As an Ontario arbitration decision, the case does not set precedent in Saskatchewan. Teaching is a category for which standards must be met for tenure and promotion at the U of S, and standards here still require student evaluations of teaching. Do not forego student evaluations of your teaching in light of this arbitration decision.

In our e-Letter, we asked you to read the decision and send us comments. Respondents provided many salient comments. It is clear that faculty are not opposed to careful and thorough reviews of teaching and relevant materials, including student comments. However, the present processes do not meet this standard. The following is some of what we heard.

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This nature of teaching requires professors or educators in general, not only to deliver knowledge to students but also discipline them so that they are able to learn and meet the standards they will have to meet after graduation. Student satisfaction can be biased by many things such as easiness grading on exams and assignments or lowering standards of course work, or even being ingratiating in the student-professor relationship.

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 Teaching evaluations are not an exact science. The SEEQ evaluations currently used by many on this campus are extremely poor methods of assessment. The response rates are often low (20% or so). The only responses are from the two extremes of the class and are not representative. In some instances, positive responses are correlated with high grades.

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Electronic evaluations give students the opportunity to discuss responses and form group opinions. Along with social media, the evaluations can be used to “gang up” on unpopular teachers and provide very misleading evaluations.

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Student-based evaluations of teaching hurt professors from other cultural backgrounds even more badly. Most of these professors came to Canada (or US) as adults to obtain their final degrees. Their values concerning what constitutes being a good teacher makes them unwilling, or perhaps, their deficiency in “cultural” English makes them unable, to satisfy and entertain students with their teaching. Other cultural misunderstandings, especially in facial expressions and gestures, makes students believe they are bad teachers, and most of the time, they receive poorer evaluations from students than faculty familiar with the local culture.

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Some years ago, a colleague asked for some help appealing a negative promotion decision on grounds of negative teaching evaluations. Close analysis of the evaluations supported the hypothesis that a cohort of students consistently offered scathing evaluations as they worked their way through the program – that is, particularly caustic remarks appeared in successive years.

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Student-based teaching evaluation corrupts university education when the results affect a professor’s promotion, tenure, and salary review. There are many tricks used to elicit “good” evaluations from students. The most common one is to give easy midterm examinations and harder finals.

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 Proper assessment of teaching is very time consuming. The SEEQ evaluations used here are not time consuming. In many cases, no class time is dedicated to them, and consequently the information is flawed in many instances. In some units, evaluations are simply not a priority and the product is poor.

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 The variance of units across campus in their approach to teaching assessment is huge. In some cases, a peer, or several peers, sometimes external, is asked to review all the materials associated with a course, including lectures, assignments, and exams. In other units, decisions are based on a peer review of a single lecture and the SEEQ assessments.

 

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