There was some discussion recently regarding the usefulness (or not) of student evaluations of instructors. Some argued that they are not particularly informative, some (like me) suggested that some approaches to soliciting feedback can be productive, and others suggested that anonymous evaluations at least might be not much more than a means of getting back at instructors.
I’d like to contrast my school’s only-signed-comments-count-in-annual-review approach* with the anything-can-be-said-on-teh-interweb format. I am talking about the notorious RateMyProfessors.com, which apparently some students consult for insights about potential instructors of courses they are considering taking. I already noted that I think that voluntary, signed comments are useful, though not perfect — but what about the other?
I won’t go into what the official student evaluations of my course are, except to note that a substantial fraction of students complete them and they are positive. But I recently saw what is written on RateMyProfessors by less than a dozen students out of about 475 students that I have taught to date. This one specifically stood out:
he is arrogant and its a distraction from teaching. he needs a lesson on making effective lecture slides and teaching. and i’d give it to him because i could do a better job with no prior understanding of the material!I fell asleep on the uncomfortable desks EVERY class. run far far away if you dont need to take this class. you wont learn anything!
The problem I have with this is not that it is negative. Anyone is entitled to their opinion, and I learned early that you can not make everybody happy. No, the problem is that he or she did not provide any means for me to accept the invitation to show me how to teach a course!
Dear student, if you are reading this, my office is SCIE 1450. Please come by at your convenience to enlighten me on the proper method of teaching the material. Also, please let me know which lecture(s) I can pencil you in for as a guest presenter next semester.
I wonder: do any students really take RateMyProfessors seriously, or do they simply ask their friends who have taken a course what it’s like?
* In particular, students are asked to fill out an online survey, which consists of both a questionnaire with numerical scales and a choice of also leaving comments, either signed or unsigned. The questionnaire and signed comments are used by the department, but unsigned comments are shown only to the instructor and the chair. So, students can still make their evaluation using only the questionnaire if they want to remain anonymous but have their opinion seen.