Taking students' evaluation on teaching with a pinch of salt

Students' evaluation on teaching is part of the faculty members' appraisal process in most universities. Typically, at the end of the semester, students would be given a questionnaire to respond to questions about the lecturer's teaching.

On paper this seems like a great way to ensure quality of teaching. If there is anything amiss about the lecturer's teaching behaviour, the collected feedback would inform the university leadership for further remedies, if needed.

In some universities, if not most, lecturer's performance assessed through this survey is also used for promotion and tenure decisions, and performance-related bonuses to be awarded.

What is supposed to be an informative tool now becomes a system of carrot and stick to manage teaching staff!

Now, this is fundamentally problematic for a place like universities because the lecturers may choose to do what he/she can to do well in the post teaching evaluation and not do thing in the best interest of the students.

One thing that stands out is the level of expectations the lecturers can have on the students. When the lecturers demand too much during the course, the students could potentially rate the lecturer down as a form of retaliation.

Sometimes as an educator, we have to put the students through the paces in order for them to experience difficulty such that they may go through self-discovery and transformation. This may come in the form of expecting self-learning, for example. However, when the students expect everything to be taught to them like cooked food arranged on a platter, such a strategy would not be welcomed by some of the students. The result could be poor rating in the students' evaluation.

Same goes with grading students critically, which may back fire. Students may have grudges against the lecturer and rate him/her down in the teaching evaluation at the end of the course.

As leaders in the educational organization, we need to be cognisant of such dynamics because the outcome of ignoring it that we may get a situation that is going down a downward spiral.

Lecturers becoming soft on the students for fear of poor evaluation of teaching, and then not doing students justice.

We should all take students' evaluation on teaching with a pinch of salt. Use what is useful information for improvement but don't use it to punish or reward lecturers.

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