May 1, 1997
University of Minnesota
This subcommittee report summarizes information about the possible
use of student opinion data, collected through student evaluations
of teaching, to assist students in making course selection decisions.
The subcommittee based its discussion of student evaluation of
teaching data on information provided by the Office of Measurement
Most colleges and universities in the United States have a process
whereby students evaluate the quality of instruction received.
The purposes to be served by such processes are three: a) to
assist faculty in improving instruction (e.g., feedback from students
indicating that the instructor speaks too quietly); b) to be used
as one type of evidence, along with other documentation about
performance in the arenas of teaching, research, and service,
by faculty committees and by departmental, collegiate or campus
administrators in making personnel decisions ranging from whether
or not to hire a new faculty member to making promotion and annual
salary decisions; and c) to be used by students and advisors in
helping students make informed course selection decisions. The
three differing purposes demand that the content of the specific
questions answered by students fits the particular purpose for
which the results are to be used.
The University Senate has had a policy on the evaluation of teaching
that dates back to 1973, although only the most recent 1992 policy
is pertinent. That policy was developed within the faculty governance
structure of the University of Minnesota, and demonstrates the
commitment of University faculty to the evaluation of teaching.
That policy requires that student surveys must be included as
one source of information about a faculty member's teaching.
The policy also requires that written student evaluations be obtained
for at least one section of each of the courses taught during
the previous year.
In brief, we have concluded that a two-fold concern exists, but
that release of all of the results of the five questions required
by the University Senate for student evaluation of teaching is
unlikely to yield positive outcomes for either aspect of the concern.
Instead, the subcommittee has concluded that there is a need
to provide students with student opinion data for a more appropriate
set of questions, and that the University should take additional
steps to help students and their advisers make more informed course
selection decisions. The detailed recommendations of the subcommittee
are summarized in the section "Recommendations and Timetable
This report summarizes relevant materials and statistics gathered
by the subcommittee and discusses the relative advantages and
disadvantages of using the student evaluation of teaching data
in course selection. Our conclusions relative to the three primary
questions are as follows:
Usage of Student Evaluation of Teaching
Statistics provided by the Office of Measurement Services point to widespread usage and central processing of student evaluation of teaching forms. Five different forms are available for use:
The statistics in Table 1 below describe usage across all forms for 1993-94, 1994-95 and
1995-96. The most frequently used form is Form D, which accounts
for almost 50 percent of the courses evaluated.
|Distinct Summary Reports a||7,100||9,605||9,891|
|Departmental Units Reported||114||118||117|
a Refers to the number of distinct summary reports generated (e.g., several distinct reports for multiple section courses).
b Number of identifiable courses that were evaluated;
included some duplication if more than one form was used in a
Based on the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP) on May 14, 1992, the University Senate adopted a "Policy on Evaluation of Teaching Contributions" that included the following three major statements:
The intent of the policy was to develop a better means of evaluating
teaching for the purpose of personnel decisions, and did not directly
address the other purpose that might be served by the policy (e.g.,
to assist instructors in making course improvements).
On April 1, 1993 SCEP brought to the Senate for approval "Protocols
for Student Evaluation and Peer Review of Faculty Teaching Contribution."
The following numbered items were pertinent to the discussions
within the subcommittee:
Of special interest is the last statement concerning the need
for periodic reviews of the policy adopted by the Senate in May
of 1992. Although the subcommittee was not charged with an overall
review, much of the information in this report is pertinent to
such a review.
Two years after this policy goes into effect, and periodically thereafter, both the overall implementation of the policy, and the value of its constituent elements (e.g., the standardized student evaluation mandated by the Senate in May of 1992) will be reviewed by SCEP, so as to bring to the attention of the Senate any changes that may seem needed.
The two dimensions of the concern addressed by the subcommittee
are: a) poor teaching in isolated situations does occur at the
University of Minnesota; and b) students have a legitimate and
unmet need to have additional information about the instructors
of courses to enhance the quality of their course selection decisions.
Faculty representatives on the subcommittee were unanimous in
their view that ensuring good teaching is an important administrative
responsibility, and that those responsible parties need to be
held accountable to insure that, in fact, good teaching does occur
in each and every class at the University of Minnesota. It was
not within the purview of the subcommittee to determine the extent
to which such accountability is a current reality at the University
of Minnesota, although concerns were expressed, especially by
faculty representatives on the subcommittee.
Student representatives on the subcommittee noted examples in
which the quality of the instruction was not adequate, and endorsed
the need for administrative accountability for the quality of
classroom instruction. At the same time students indicated that
their primary reason for believing student evaluation of teaching
data should be accessible to them is to assist them in making
course selection decision, rather than to force change by making
public students evaluation of teaching data. Some apprehension
was expressed by faculty that making faculty evaluations of teaching
public might decrease the likelihood that student opinion data
would be collected, which, in turn, would decrease the likelihood
that those responsible for ensuring that good teaching occurs
would be able to identify situations in which poor teaching occurs.
When students are asked what information about instructors would
be useful to them in selecting courses, it is not apparent that
statistical summaries of previous groups of students' evaluations
based on the five required questions would address their information
needs. A March 12, 1997 Minnesota Daily editorial "Faculty
evaluations should be public" by Greg Lauer, begins as follows:
"Hopefully, I'll avoid the physics professor who speaks
in tongues (he calls it quantum mechanics), the psychology instructor
obsessed with Freudian development and the French prof who treats
students like they are Americans in France. . .I know that who
is teaching the class is just as important as what is being taught."
It is quite improbable that the statistical summary for the five
questions required by the University Senate would be useful to
Mr. Lauer in answering the legitimate questions about who he will
encounter when he begins next quarter. With the increasing use
of e-mail at the University, it is easy for Mr. Lauer to ask the
three professors the appropriate questions, the answers to which
should help him avoid such instructors.
Considerable discussion in the subcommittee focused on the responsibility
of the University of Minnesota to insure that high quality teaching
is available in all courses. Both faculty and student subcommittee
members agreed with the assertion that administrative responsibility
and accountability was central to identify problems in instructional
quality, and to assist those faculty whose course evaluations
were below an acceptable level. There were differences of opinion,
however, about the role of student access to instructor course
evaluations in stimulating further improvements in the quality
of teaching. Although such an outcome may occur, the stated purpose
of giving students access to student evaluation of teaching data
is to assist them in making course selection decisions, rather
than to force improvement by making public the evaluations of
instructors who receive very low ratings.
Although students provide the responses that generate instructor
evaluation summaries, it is true that students are not generally
aware of the results across types of courses and instructors,
and have not had access to the results for particular courses.
Although not an intended result of making course evaluation summaries
accessible to students, students might become more differentiating
in their responses based on their knowledge of overall distributions
of mean scores for the five required questions for faculty in
In response to a request from students at the University of Minnesota-Twin
Cities campus about the "possibility of releasing teaching
evaluations to students" the Senate Committee on Educational
Policy (SCEP) appointed a subcommittee to address the following
On March 14, 1997 the University of Minnesota Student Consultative
Committee passed a resolution concerning the adding of student
evaluations of faculty to the agenda of the Student Legislative
Coalition. The text of the resolution, which endorses the process
established by SCEP, follows:
Whereas the ability of students to access summary
data of quarterly student evaluations would assist in the course
registration process, would provide a great service to students
and would hold faculty more accountable to students;
Whereas the student senate approved a resolution
urging the faculty, administration, and the regents to provide
a means for this student benefit without including the legislature;
Whereas the merits of available evaluations could
benefit students, without allowing excessive consumerism that
would negatively affect our University community morale, by working
through the University Senate and circumventing further fracturing
of an already fractious relationship with faculty;
Whereas the Senate Committee on Educational Policy
is currently reviewing the most effective and beneficial process
for implementing a policy making available, for student review,
student evaluations of faculty, and has a subcommittee currently
making progress towards this goal,
Whereas the proposed change in law effects all the
students of the University of Minnesota as well as the students
Whereas there has been no formal consultation of
the Student Senate Consultative Committee and little consultation
on the proposed changes to the data practices act outside of the
Twin Cities undergraduate student association;
Whereas the Student Senate Consultative Committee
represents the students of the University at large and not the
individual campuses, institutes colleges, schools, or departments
of the University;
Whereas the Legislative Agenda is subject to the
approval by the Student Senate Consultative Committee, as stated
in Article I Section 4 of the Student Legislative Coalition's
Therefore be it resolved that the Student Senate
Consultative Committee supports the work being done in the University
Senate and specifically what is being done in the subcommittee
of Senate Educational Policy Committee, and
Be it further resolved that the Student Senate Consultative
Committee advises the Student Legislative Coalition not to add
faculty evaluations to its legislative agenda at this time.
To ascertain the overall level of student evaluation of the quality of teaching, the subcommittee was provided descriptive information by the Office of Measurement Services on the course means for the five required questions for 1993-94, 1994-95, 1995-96. As the results in Figure 1 indicate, the means for all five items were considerably above the "satisfactory" level (4.0 on the seven-point scale). The highest mean was for the item "Instructor's knowledge of subject matter," which at 6.25 is remarkably high given an upper level of 7.00 (if all students rated all instructors as exceptional in all courses). The means for "Instructor's respect and concern for students" is only slightly lower (5.91-5.95). The mean for "Instructor's overall teaching ability" is approximately mid-way between 5.00 and 6.00. The lowest course related mean is for the item "Amount of learning in class," which is only partly related to what an instructor does in a course. Although the three distributions in Figure 1 look similar, the consistency in means for the five items is even more apparent when the three years of data are presented separately for each of the five items, as is shown in Figure 2. These overall statistics are consistent with other statistics relevant to students' selection of courses (e.g., 3.8 percent of changes in course registrations occur as a result of instructional quality concerns).
Mean Student Evaluation of
Teaching Class Averages for
Five Required Questions for Twin Cities Campus, by Year a
Additional information about the distribution of the class means suggest some variability in the course means, as is illustrated in Figure 3 below, that portrays the percentages of mean scores in seven score ranges for the question "How would you rate the instructor's overall teaching ability?"
Concerns were expressed by subcommittee members about those courses/instructors
with means below the level of "satisfactory" (4.00 on
the seven-point scale), which account for less than 10 percent
of the ratings.
An even more detailed picture of the means for the overall teaching
item is presented in Figure 4. Two points are worth noting. First,
the number of courses in 1995-96 with mean ratings of "very
poor" numbered 44, which represents one percent of the courses/instructors
in the data set. Second, the frequency distribution indicates
the very large number of courses with means clustered around the
scale points (e.g., 6.00) and mid-points (e.g., 5.50). This finding
suggests that the differences among courses/instructors are negligible
at certain scale points, and, therefore, the likelihood of the
data being useful to students making decisions among those instructors
is non-existent. However, if the choice involves one instructor
at one cluster (e.g., 6.0) versus another instructor at a different
cluster (e.g., 5.0), a meaningful difference is likely to exist.
The subcommittee identified several options to respond to the
request that student evaluation of teaching results be made available
for students to assist them in course selection.
Instructors and Courses to be Included
In addressing the first question, the subcommittee sought guidance
from the Office of the General Counsel concerning privacy issues
surrounding the student evaluation of teaching data currently
being collected and summarized in accord with Senate Policy on
the Evaluation of Teaching. As a public institution, the University
of Minnesota is obligated to make all data available unless the
data are considered as private from the perspective of faculty
as employees of the University of Minnesota or from the perspective
of students concerning their own educational record and performance.
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act indicates that only
certain data about a faculty member is considered as "public"
data, for example, name, salary, position, educational preparation,
and discipline, all of which are a matter of fact rather than
evaluation or interpretation. All other "data" about
faculty not specifically identified by law as "public"
are considered private and cannot be made public without the consent
of the individual employee. Unless student evaluation of teaching
data were added to the list of public data by the Minnesota Legislature
the University of Minnesota would be in violation of Minnesota's
privacy law if faculty were required to make student evaluation
data available to students to assist students in course selection.
In a few other states, student evaluation of teaching data are
considered to be in the public domain.
Individual faculty members could sign a written consent form permitting
release of student evaluation data to assist students in course
selection, which has been done in those parts of the University
of Minnesota (e.g., Carlson School of Management) that already
give faculty the opportunity to release student evaluation of
teaching data to assist students in the course selection process.
The subcommittee considered four options and concluded that option
4 was the preferred option.
Option 1: Required Release of Results for all Faculty and Courses
To require that student evaluation of teaching data be made public
could be compared to the following: requiring that all preK-12
teachers make available the evaluations of their teaching by the
parents of children in their classes to assist in teacher selection;
requiring that all social service agencies make available to the
general public the client satisfaction results from surveys administered
within those settings to enable clients to select agencies; requiring
that elected officials make public the results of surveys of constituency
satisfaction surveys to assist voters in the voting process; requiring
that all drivers license examiners make available to test takers
the comments of examinees tested by the particular examiner to
assist would-be-drivers in choosing an examiner.
This option would be considered to be a violation of current Minnesota
Data Privacy Laws. Moreover, even if it were legal the required
release would not be desirable for the following reasons:
Option 2: Voluntary Release of Required Questions for any Interested
In this option, all faculty would be invited to participate and
those faculty who are interested in participating would sign a
release form authorizing the Office of Measurement Services to
provide to a designated office a copy of the statistical results
of the five required questions for the course being evaluated.
The faculty member would specify where the results would be accessible
to students: in their office; in a departmental office; in a
collegiate office (e.g., advising office); or some other campus-wide
Option 3: Voluntary Release of Required Questions for Subset
of Faculty and Courses
In this option, faculty would be invited to release student evaluation
of teaching data for only certain types of courses (e.g., courses
that fulfill campus liberal education requirements) for which
there is a possibility of student choice. If a broader set of
results was deemed desirable, no restrictions on types of courses
would be imposed.
In the discussions in the subcommittee and in previous discussions
within the Senate Committee on Educational Policy, several concerns
were expressed about the possible negative effects of widespread
release of results of the five required questions for certain
types of instructors (e.g., teaching assistants who are unlikely
to teach the same course more than once and assistant professors
who are new to teaching and who may not yet have had a chance
to refine their teaching skills). In this option, only associate
and full professors would be invited to participate if they wished
to do so. Moreover, there are numerous required courses that
are taught by only one faculty member and for which there is no
possibility of the data enhancing the student choice process.
Option 4: Voluntary Release of Public Release Items
One of the more perplexing issues addressed by the subcommittee
involved the differing purposes to be served by student evaluation
of teaching, and the need to think about the implications of differing
purposes relative to the content of questions asked of students.
The only limitation in terms of participation would be the exclusion
of teaching assistants, who typically do not teach the same course
repeatedly and who are actively involved in developing their expertise
as teachers. The section below "Content of Questions to
be Asked of Previously Enrolled Students" suggests a strategy
for developing a more appropriate set of questions.
Content of Questions to be Asked of Previously Enrolled Students
It became apparent in discussions in the subcommittee as well
as previous comments in SCEP that there are concerns about whether
or not the five required questions, or the longer list of instructional
improvement questions as well, are the "best questions"
that if asked and responded to by previous students would, in
fact, address the legitimate questions that students may have
about instructors they do not know. Those institutions that have
a system in place have tended to use the standard items found
on most student evaluation of teaching instruments used for personnel
decisions and instructional improvement purposes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a wide variety in the
questions students would like to know about possible instructors:
five undergraduates were asked by the subcommittee chair the
question and each of them gave quite different answers. One wanted
to know if students thought the grading was fair. Another wanted
to know if other students would recommend the course. Another
student wanted to know if previous students thought the course
objectives were achieved. Another wanted to know if students
fell asleep in the class. Another student did not think the results
would be useful since students do not take the process seriously.
The great variation in the responses noted above suggests that
a system of "five questions for all" does not directly
address the information needs of students as they think about
course selection. Instead, what might truly help the course selection
process is for more students to have easy access to faculty to
ask them directly about a particular aspect of the course. The
Course Guide provides good information, but does not include
the detailed information considered useful by students interested
in a particular course. An "Ask your Professor" option
could easily link students with the faculty teaching a particular
course, and could be implemented electronically.
In an attempt to get a broader perspective on the issue, a convenience
sample presented itself in mid-March: a list of names and ID
numbers of students who signed a petition in support of making
the results of evaluation of teaching available to students to
assist in the course selection process. That list could be used
in spring quarter 1997 to obtain students' perspectives on a new
set of course opinion questions.
Given that the five required questions are used in making personnel
decisions, it has been deemed necessary that those questions must
allow finer distinctions amongst faculty, thereby necessitating
a seven-point response scale. Such fine distinctions are unlikely
to be necessary or useful in providing students with a reliable
overview of the opinions of previously enrolled students.
One possible framework to use in developing a more appropriate
set of questions to guide student course selection is to focus
on those principles that have been demonstrated to contribute
to student learning, and to translate those principles into questions
that might suggest how faculty and students in a given course
address those factors. The following seven principles have been
adapted from Gamson and Chickering's "Seven Principles for
Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" (AAHE Bulletin,
March 1987, pp. 5-10).
(Especially contact focused on the academic agenda)
(Teaching them to work productively with others)
(Thinking, doing, and thinking about what they are doing)
(And helps students figure out what to do in response)
(Provides lots of useful, productive, guided practice)
(And encourages students to have high self-expectations)
(And engenders respect for intellectual diversity)
Since it became apparent that there is little published literature
on the content of student evaluation of teaching questions that
are most likely to be useful to students, colleagues in instructional
development and evaluation were contacted via the POD Network
electronic mail list. Their suggestions for specific questions/types
of questions are as follows:
The aforementioned resources were used to propose a possible set
of items for inclusion in Form PR (Public Release), possible items
are listed below.
|I would take another course with this instructor|
|I attended almost all of the class sessions during the term.||
|Students who want a structured learning environment should take this instructor|
|The course syllabus / course outline was a fairly accurate description of learning activities in the course.|
|Students who do best in less structured courses should take this instructor.|
|The instructor used a variety of teaching and learning strategies in the class.|
|The instructor provided me with timely and helpful feedback about my performance in the course.|
|The instructor set high expectations for student performance in the course.|
|Lectures and other in-class activities contributed most to my learning.|
|The learning objectives for the course were well achieved for me|
|Students usually participated in classroom discussions.|
|I met with the instructor sometime during the term (during office hours or at other times) and/or communicated with the instructor by e-mail or telephone.|
Options for Access and Distribution
If faculty are invited to participate in the voluntary release
of student evaluation of teaching data, the next set of questions
address issues of the cost and procedures for making those results
accessible to students. It is true that students in parts of
the University already have access to student evaluation of teaching
summaries (e.g., Carlson School of Management, Humphrey Institute,
and for selected courses in the Medical School), but it is also
true that it is relatively difficult and time consuming for students
to make use of the results. Typically, a student must go to a
particular office on campus and page through the detailed statistical
summaries of results provided by previous groups of students.
Figure 5 below suggests that the options for access and distribution
involve questions of both cost and usefulness of the information.
The costs are likely to be minimized and the usefulness maximized
if the student opinion results were made available to students
electronically and imbedded in the Home Page of those interested
faculty members, and connected to the information already available
in The Course Guide. The review of practices at other
institutions that make results available electronically provides
models to guide implementation at the University of Minnesota.
Currently, there are four different standard forms that may be
used, but all forms contain the five questions required by the
University Senate. The forms differ in the nature of the additional
questions and the flexibility in the number of additional questions
that may be included. The additional questions are those most
likely to be useful to the instructor for instructional improvement
purposes (e.g., questions about lectures, quizzes and associated
reading materials). It is important to note that none of the
items on any of the forms were developed explicitly because of
their likely usefulness to students in making course selection
decisions. The subcommittee recommends that a new form (Form
PR- Public Release) be developed that includes those questions
most likely to provide useful information to students. Although
additional consultation is needed before the set of questions
is finalized (including some formal feedback from a sample of
students), the subcommittee has developed a draft version of the
questions (Attachment A). The estimated cost is $900 to prepare
and obtain 15,000 copies of the machine readable Form PR (Public
Release). Those faculty who wish to make student opinion data
available to students would sign a release form when the completed
surveys are returned for processing by the Office of Measurement
Services (Attachment B), and would receive the summary results
prior to the public release.
Recommendations and Timetable for Implementation
Phase I: Design of WWW Reporting Framework (Spring-Summer 1997)
Phase II: Communication and Initiation (Fall 1997)
Phase III: Gradual Implementation (Winter 1998 and beyond)
Literature on Student Access to Student Evaluation of Teaching
An article "Evaluation by Students: Concept Comes of Age"
in the December 2, 1996 New York Times began "It used
to be that what students had to say about professors was unprintable,
it remained that way. No longer. The evaluations are used to
improve teaching, to help students choose courses and to assist
faculty and administrators in promotion and tenure decisions."
The following quote from Wilbert McKeachie, associate director
of the Center for Research and Post Secondary Teaching and Learning
at the University of Michigan and past president of the American
Psychological Association commented "People tend to think
of teaching as just involving content. But teaching is about
getting the knowledge to students' heads and it is hard to find
anyone who is a better judge of whether they are learning something
than the students themselves."
The article commented as follows about informal course guides;
"In addition to the institutionalized procedures for faculty
evaluation, informal course guides are also published and sold
by students at some universities. These are usually every bit
as disrespectful as any beleaguered faculty member ever dreamed
possible. One of the oldest of these is the "Confidential
Guide to Courses," or the "Confi Guide" put out
by the editors of The Harvard Crimson. "The first purpose
is to be humorous; the second purpose, if it can't be humorous,
is to be interesting, and last, we're trying to be informative,"
said Jonathan Moses, managing editor of The Crimson. We are not
like the "CUE Guide," referring to the official university
At Stanford University, the official course evaluation guide is
being computerized. Soon students will be able to use a terminal
to find out all the courses taught on a certain day of the names
of the courses taught by a certain professor or what requirements
a given course fulfills. At the end of each course description
is a student evaluation section.
"At the end of each quarter, the registrar sends out evaluation
forms with questions like, 'What are the best things about the
class? How would you rate the courseheavy, light or moderate?
What would you say to a student taking this course?'" said
Alice Lee, a student who is working on the project.
A recent article "Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Student Evaluation
of Faculty: Galloping Polls In the 21st Century"
by Ralph E. Haskill, University of New England in the February
1997 issue of Education Policy Analysis Archives contains
the following brief section on releasing SEF data to students
and the public:
In exploring possible legal implications of SEF, it should be
made clear that I am not an attorney and approach this section
on the basis of the "reasonable man" legal standard.
To begin, some faculty believe that due process and defamation
issues are involved in SEF (Crumbley, 1996). It has been suggested
that faculty are entitled to at least the same rights as students.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires, for example, due process before
a public institution may deprive one of life, liberty, or property.
Given the problematic nature of SEF, due process is in question.
In a university, a faculty's reputation is considered a liberty
right, and for tenured faculty the courts have pronounced the
possession of tenure a property right. Presumably, any inappropriate
action depriving faculty of these rights would be open to legal
Though it is illegal to post a student's grades using a social
security number or date of birth on the majority of campuses scientifically
questionable SEF and other anecdotal student remarks about faculty
teaching are not only used in determining faculty salary increases,
promotion and tenure decisions, they are openly published on some
university campuses and sanctioned by some administrators and
state government officials. In what many faculty see as an outrageous
attempt to control the academic classroom, some state governments
have sanctioned the release of SEF to the campus community and
in some cases to the general public by publishing faculty student
evaluations on the university's world wide web pages, thus making
them not only available on campus but globally.
Case in point: At the University of Wisconsin, the Chancellor
refused to release the SEF, citing a statute allowing personnel
evaluations to be withheld from public view. The students took
the chancellor to court. However, after being advised to do so
by the state's Attorney General, citing Wisconsin's open-records
law, the University of Wisconsin's campus will open students'
evaluations of professors for public view. To the credit of the
student and faculty senates, they passed resolutions in support
of the Chancellor's refusal, and the university's lawyer concurred.
Despite these resolutions, the Attorney General disagreed, writing
that "the requested records are public records and the university's
stated reasons for withholding access do not outweigh the public
interest in the records" (Chronicle of Higher Education,
Other schools also published SEF. One recent survey of accounting
departments found that 11.4% of the respondents indicated that
SEF scores are made available to students (Crumbley and Fliedner,
1995). Indeed, a search using "faculty evaluation" on
the world wide web will return numerous examples of published
SEF. All this while faculty are restricted from divulging information
on students (see Pennsylvania State University, 1996). Articles
are, however, beginning to appear that question the legality of
publicly releasing SEF (Robinson and Fink, 1996).
It has been suggested that if a university damages a faculty's
reputation by publishing false and anecdotal data from SEF, faculty
should able to sue for libel or defamation. The concept of defamation
typically refers to communication that causes a person to be shamed,
ridiculed, held in contempt by others, or their status lowered
in the eyes of the community, or to lose employment status or
earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Legally, while
defamation is governed by state law, it is limited by the first
amendment (Black, 1990). According to one source, however, the
courts have generally protected administrators from defamation
charges resulting from performance evaluations (Zirkel, 1996).
It would seem, however, that these older precedents applied when
administrative evaluations were conducted in private and not publicly
University administrators are often allowed to release SEF to
students when the release of personnel information is apparently
allowed in no other phase of personnel or other key management
functions. An Idaho ruling upheld the release of SEF to students
by reasoning that students were not the general public and therefore
faculty evaluations were not protected under the privacy rights
of the Idaho Code (Evaluating Teacher Evaluations, 1996). Given
such apparent breaches of confidentiality and privacy, it will
be instructive to see how the courts will continue to rule. It
would seem that a university should be held responsible for insuring
that data made public are valid.
Finally, in typical personnel evaluations, professional validation
studies are not permissible unless shown by professionally acceptable
methods to be "predictive of or significantly correlated
with important elements of work behavior which comprise or are
relevant to the job or jobs for which candidates are being evaluated."
In Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the employer must
meet "the burden of showing that any given requirement (or
test) has a manifest relationship to the employment in question"
(in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971). "In view
of the possibility inherent in subjective evaluations, supervisory
rating techniques should be carefully developed, and the ratings
should be closely examined for evidence of bias" (EEOC Guidelines,
99 CFR 1607.5 (b) (4). (in Crumbley, 1996).
Practices in Place at Other Institutions
The five questions required by the University Senate for the University
of Minnesota are quite similar to student evaluation of teaching
questions used at other institutions. An informal survey by the
Minnesota Student Association (MSA) in the fall of 1996, of other
Big Ten institutions (Indiana University, University of Wisconsin,
University of Michigan and Penn State) concluded: "Note that
all of these schools release the evaluations to the students.
Some schools release all evaluations. Others do not."
Further review of information collected by MSA provides the following
additional descriptions of the systems in place at these four
institutions. To get a broader picture of the use of student
evaluation of teaching data to assist in course selection, a request
for information was made to institutional research colleagues
(AAUDE; American Association of Universities Data Exchange) and
organization of 42 research institutions. Responses have been
received from 19 institutions as of April, 1997 and are also summarized
below. The descriptions are organized according to the type of
system in place at the institution (e.g., whether the information
is collected separately by student organizations or whether institutionally
collected data are used).
|Iowa State University||Information on student evaluations of instructors and courses is not provided to students, although a short-lived process was in place in the 1970s. The Government of the Student Body has renewed interest in this possibility.|
|University of Missouri||No systematic process in place|
|Cornell||It's all word of mouth|
|University of Kansas||Results are not available to students, although student associations currently are pursuing the possibility.|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Results of teaching evaluations are not available to students. Over the years, student associations have initiated processes to rate faculty and distribute results, but nothing has survived long enough to become institutionalized.|
Student Association System based on Separate Data Collection
|Indiana University||Sponsored by Indiana University Student Association (IUSA)\
Data from students enrolled fall 1995 semester
|University of Virginia||A paper based system exists that is separate from data collected by the institution|
|Penn State University||Separate surveying process by Academic Assembly|
Sponsored by the Student Book Store
Focused on general education courses
Combines course information and evaluations
Seven standard questions and student comments
Percent of respondents reporting positive evaluation
Includes percent of students who drop or fail
Indicated when students surveyed
Class sample noted and class size
Section results combined
Organization by department/course/instructor
|University of North Carolina||Evaluation of teaching is not required but most departments/schools do so. Occasionally, a separate process funded by student government produce and distribute The Carolina Course Review, results of which can be accessed on the institution's home page.|
Systems Based on Institutional Data, Voluntary Faculty Participation, but No Standard Questions
|University of Toronto||Different faculty use different course evaluations. In the largest unit (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) the effort is jointly sponsored by the Faculty and the Arts and Sciences Student Union. Summary data are published in the "Arts Calendar" and 10,000 copies are distributed.|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||Sponsored by the Associated Students of Madison
To be used in course decisions for spring semester 1996
|Ohio State University||Student government organizes the dissemination of the student evaluation data, which is included as an insert in the campus newspaper. Only professors who volunteer to have results published are included, but more and more volunteer. http://www.acs.ohio-state.edu/students/usq/ Choose "Projects" option, then "Student Teaching Evaluations" |
Sponsored by Undergraduate Student Government
Only results from Student Evaluation of Instruction used by more than 30 percent of classes
Permission to publish obtained from instructors
Evaluations from only Spring 1995
Organization by department/course/instructor
Includes number of enrollees and survey respondents
Includes: class standing, GPA breakdown, and enrollment reasons
Five-point scale: 1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree
Means rated for each question
Overall rating, numbers in each category
|University of California - Irvine||Plans are being discussed to develop one standardized form. |
Currently, they have two sources of teaching evaluations. One is the voluntary participation of faculty members with Instructional Resources Services, a central office. This questionnaire consists of 26 yes/no items rated on scantron answer sheets and four short answer questions. Results are returned to the faculty member and are not used for assessment. Faculty members who agree to participate have their evaluations published in a handbook that is made available to students.
In addition to the "on request" service, some academic departments distribute course evaluation forms that may be used for personnel assessment. Results of these evaluations are not publicized.
|University of Maryland||The system is quite decentralized, and there are different forms for collecting student evaluation data in different departments and colleges. In the College of Business and in the College of Library Science, they do make student evaluation of teaching data available to students. In others, only by practice of individual faculty.|
Institutional Data Used with Standard Questions, Voluntary Participation of Faculty
|University of Iowa||Statistical results of six questions in the University administered course/teacher evaluation forms are made available in a paper based reporting system to students. The six questions are:
|Northwestern University||Electronically accessible. A system of evaluation of instructors by courses is based on data collected and reported by the Registrar's Office. http://nuinfo.nwu.edu/academic/ctec/ Message "Forbidden you do not have permission to access."|
Institutional Data, Results for Standardized Questions Available Electronically for All Faculty
|University of Colorado||Information about Faculty Course Questionnaires are accessible at the web address www.colorado.edu/SARS/FCQ|
|University of Florida||A system is in place that is based on data collected by the institution, and summary results are available electronically. Summary data can be accessed at http://www.aa.ufl.edu/|
|University of Washington||All student ratings data are open for public disclosure. Recently, ratings from selected items have been made available on the Internet. Ratings for teaching assistants who lead lab or discussion sections are excluded. http://www.washington.edu/oea/|
Institutions with Systems Under Revision
It became apparent in reviewing comments from various sources that Northwestern University's Course and Teacher Evaluation Council (CTEC) represents one system that has been in place for some time and is often mentioned as a good system. CTEC functions within the Office of the University Registrar. CTEC began as a student government committee in 1971 and currently operates under the direction of the Provost's Office. CTEC evaluates over 700 undergraduate and graduate courses each quarter and places a compilation of these course evaluations on NUInfo. The purposes of CTEC are three-fold.
That system was reviewed during the 1995-96 school year and proposed changes were implemented beginning fall quarter 1996. The most pertinent of the proposed changes are as follows:
Provide an overall rating of the instruction.
Provide an overall rating of the course.
Estimate how much you learned in the course.
Rate the effectiveness of the course in challenging you intellectually.
Rate the effectiveness of the instructor in stimulating your interest in the subject.
Currently there is a process to provide student opinion data to
students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; however, the
overall policies on evaluation of teaching differ significantly
from the 1993 University Senate. First, at the University of
Wisconsin there is no campus-wide uniformity in the content of
the student opinion survey questions. Second, and as a result
of the first difference, the information available to student
uses information collected by individual departments. The issue
of the use of student course evaluations and an evaluation of
the pros and cons of standardization across departments is being
explored by an Ad Hoc committee that will report to the Faculty
Senate the currently available electronic versions can be found
A January 1997 Progress Report summarized issues and comments raised in the public hearing and other meetings of the committee. The following summary statements are especially pertinent:
Previous Efforts to Provide Opinion Data at University of Minnesota
The current interest on the part of the Minnesota Student Association
to develop a system of collecting student opinion data and making
them available to students is not new. Starting as far back as
the early 1970s, various approaches have been piloted and implemented,
but none of them have continued at the University of Minnesota-Twin
Cities. Some attempts have been initiated by students but with
vocal opposition from the University, and some have proceeded
as a joint student and administration effort (e.g., the University
Course Information Project.) By way of contrast, there are numerous
other institutions at which there is a continuing tradition of
such summaries being available. For whatever reasons, such a
publication has not become a tradition on the Twin Cities campus.
It is important to note that the current information reported
in The Course Guide, available both in paper and electronically
as part of the Office of the Registrar's Home Page, had its beginning
in the late 1970s as the University Course Information Project
(UCIP). UCIP included student opinion data as well as the information
that is now "institutionalized" in The Course Guide,
and was funded as a special feel through the Fees Committee that
annually assesses student services fees for the following year.
Although The Course Guide provides instructor provided
information about how he/she sees the course being taught, other
types of information are needed to enable students and their advisors
to make even better choices of courses. The other questions deal
with issues of teaching styles and student participation, since
high quality instruction requires that both the instructor and
students be engaged in the process. That premise suggests that
although the majority of questions in Form PR (Public Release)
might address instructor differences, some questions should focus
on students' responses to the course.
Information Needs to Guide Course Selection
Students have access to several types and sources of information
to assist them in selecting courses: collegiate bulletins, class
schedules, The Course Guide, and recommendations from faculty,
professional advisors, and fellow students. Although printed
materials contain descriptive and factual data, recommendations
often add an evaluative dimension based on an individual's opinion
or a collective impression based on comments of others.
The selection of courses is perhaps the most fundamental set of
decisions students make about their education, and it is incumbent
on the institution to enhance the quality of these decisions.
Students ought to be encouraged to make decisions based on accurate
and complete information about the course, its learning activities
and objectives, and how a particular course is taught.
In the past decade, several studies have focused on aspects of
the course selection process that have implications for the discussion
of the role of student opinion in the process. A 1990 study of
changes in registrations on the Twin Cities campus was based on
an extensive list of 63 specific reasons why students change their
initial registration. Across all types of transactions, the highest
numbers fell into three of the new categories: "registration
and course availability," "course information and content,"
and "changes in credits and grades." Taken together
these three categories accounted for 52.2 percent of the total
number of course change transactions. Other more specific results
were as follows: (a) the main reasons for changing sections were
due to "registration and course availability" "issues"
and "work conflicts;" (b) the primary reasons for dropping
a course were in the categories "changes in credits and grades"
and "course information and content;" (c) for those
adding courses, the main reason fell into the categories "registration
and course availability" and "course information and
content;" (d) for those canceling their entire registration,
the primary reasons concerned "miscellaneous and personal
reasons" and "work conflicts;" (e) in the case
of changing credits, most were in the categories "changes
in credits and grades" or "registration and course availability;"
and (f) for changing grade options, the most frequently given
reasons were in the areas of "changes in credits and grades"
and "course information and content."
Figure 6 below presents the relative percentages of course changes
attributable to various types of reasons. Varying course information
and content issues accounted for 17.4 percent of the changes,
whereas perceived concerns about instructional quality accounted
for only 3.8 percent of the changes in registrations.
Very helpful 20%
Somewhat helpful 22%
Slightly helpful 9%
Not helpful 7%
In planning for the University Course Information Project in 1979
(now known as The Course Guide), the Focus Group Interview
Report: Undergraduate Student Needs for Course Information and
Reactions to the Course Information Models was commissioned by
the Minnesota Student Association. Three focus group interviews
were conducted with 14 students, and 20 faculty advisors participated
in three other focus group interviews. Two questions were posed:
(a) What information do students need to choose classes?; and
(b) What is the best way to get course information to students?
The following text and specific comments from students were taken
verbatim from the report:
When the students were specifically asked which type of information
was most helpful to them in selecting courses, they generally
seemed to feel that the input received from students who had previously
taken courses was the most useful form of information. Some of
the comments were:
I think word of mouth is (the most useful) because someone's
actually done it and it's not written down What's written down
can be totally different from what's in the class. The guy who
wrote it (the course description) might have a misconception or
the guy who's teaching it might decide to vary and if you've had
someone that's already taken the class, they've actually done
it and they know what's going on firsthand. So that's the most
reliable form of information.
I agree pretty much with word of mouth. That is for me the
most reliable way of knowing what a class actually going to be
I guess I'd go with trusted friends' opinions and things like
I think I more or less go by my friends advice, because if
they've already taken the course and if they've liked it, more
than likely I would too. But I don't just talk to one person.
I try to get like two or three people that have gone through the
course already and get their input on the class so that it's not
just biased by one person.
I use the scheduling book and word of mouth from some upperclassmen
who have taken most of what's in my major, so I just talk to them.
While the students who participated in the interviews appeared
to be in consensus on the importance of the information they received
from other students, they also noted that the value of the information
had to be weighted in terms of how well they knew the other students
and how much they respected their opinions.
Information about course expectations and the teaching performance
of professors and T.A-'s was also used by the participants. However,
information of this nature did not seem to be of as much importance
as the types of information specified earlier in this section.
Such information, when used, appeared to be obtained primarily
from other students.
The responses from the participants fell into three major categories.
Students expressed a need for 1) additional information concerning
course expectations and assignments, 2) more information about
course content, and finally 3) information about the professor
or T.A. teaching a course.
Of these needs, the most pressing, was more information on course
expectations and assignments. Students were interested in accessing
this type of information so they could better balance quarterly
schedules and course work loads. It also seemed that having this
type of information would better allow them the opportunity to
select courses that matched their specific learning styles. Comments
expressed concerning this need were:
I'd ask for another way of rating the difficulty of classes,
because I've taken a 1000 level class that's been harder than
some of my 3000 level classes. That's kind of deceptive. You
sign up for a 1000 level anything and you think, and you may be
wrong, that it's an easy class, that it's a freshman class. It
should be an easy class and then you get in there and it takes
so much time and blows you away compared to some of your other
classes. You need some way to gauge how much time you're going
to spend on some of these classes.
Maybe something on like a difficulty range, You know, like
if somebody thought maybe it would be better to do it when you're
a junior versus a freshman or something.
And maybe even a little bit about the format or something about
how it's run or if it's four quizzes and one exam. It would take
up a little sentence in the description. It wouldn't take up
that much space.
I might want to know what's required of you before you sign
up for it and go sit down and get your syllabus. You know, because
like my Islam class, one thing that I don't like about it is you're
graded on two tests and that's all you're graded on. I would
prefer to know that a head of time because maybe I wouldn't have
taken it, which might of been a mistake since I enjoy it. But
Id like to know if you're expected to write five papers before
you walk in there or if you're expected to have one test and everything
is based on that one test.
The need for more information about course content was expressed
by a number of participants. Their major concern centered on
having more information about what s actually covered in a course
and what the focus of the course is. They noted that the then
current catalog course descriptions were sketchy. It appeared
that these students were most interested in having more detailed,
accurate descriptions available so as to help eliminate the problem
of enrolling for a class and finding out that it was considerably
different than the catalog description. Some typical comments
related to the need for more course content information were:
What I think they should do is take all the classes, if not
all of them (then) the ones that you're obviously going to end
up taking, and give you a paragraph or so, rather then just the
two sentences that they have in the bulletin and tell you exactly
what the course is and what it involves rather than just generally
what you can expect on the first day of class. I think that will
help a lot.
I think a little bit more of a descriptive course detail (would
be helpful). I'm planning ahead now and I'm thinking about taking
a physical geography class which sounds just about the same as
the geology course I'm taking now. It's like I'd like to know
the differences when you look at the descriptions, they're really
The course content previous to registration would be helpful
either in the course directory or the listings in the boards book
Well maybe, at least the people would know what they would
be getting into (if they had more course content information).
I'm thinking of classes that I've taken that just blow me away
by the great difference between what was actually taught there
and what I thought would be taught
Some participants thought that information about the professor
or T.A. teaching a specific course would be useful. It should
be noted, however, that information about the instructor was a
much lower priority than information about course content and
expectations. Specific comments relating to this need were:
I'd like to know a little bit more about the professor, but
there doesn't seem to be a lot available. You know it tells you
the name of the instructor but not much beyond
Maybe if it comes down to like a choice between my French classes,
it would be a choice between T.A.s who teach the lower level French
classes. Maybe even a brief summary of where they're from and
where they've been educated and how long they've been teaching.
One of my biggest problems with one of the French T.A.s that
I got was that she was African and she didn't speak very well
in English and so she just totally didn't speak English....
Like how effective they (students) thought the professor was
or I guess how the information was presented ...if they thought
the information was useful and that sort of thing
You know, I would like to know some about the profs, too.
You know, some kind of evaluation. I would like to see an overall
evaluation compiled by the students and their opinions and why
they feel that way. You know because there are different teaching
styles and I learn better under specific teaching styles because
I'm an individual and it would make it a lot easier if I could
specifically pick out the classes I could learn better in.
Advisors have an opportunity to see a variety of students, provide
advice on a range of topics, and are able to provide valuable
insight into the types of information students need. Topics discussed
with advisors centered on their need for information when advising
students on course selection and students' need for course information.
The following text focuses on the advisor's views.
Within the major, advisors had few problems advising students
on courses. They felt they were experts in their subject area,
particularly if they had been in the system for a number of years.
Advisors were familiar with the sequence in which courses needed
to be taken, were acquainted with faculty members teaching courses,
were aware of how classes operated, and were familiar with course
However, advisors expressed frustration with a lack of knowledge
and information about courses offered outside their department.
Much of the information they had about courses outside the major
came from talking with students. In many cases, advisors felt
they were not able to provide students with adequate information
about courses outside the major. Comments included:
For majors it's fairly easy because I feel like an expert and
I know how to keep them in sequence. I've learned how to solve
little problems if they get out of sequence- The place that's
really frustrating and I don't know what the solution is, is when
I as a Physics Professor am trying to give the student some good
ideas about what to take for liberal education courses. We've
gotten ourselves into such a huge smorgasbord of courses that
I don't really know what is good, who is a good professor, or
whether writing is going to be required in the course. I feet
I don't do the job.
1'm in the sciences and it's difficult to advise students on
what courses they might take in these other subjects that we aren't
conversant with Usually I advise students in the major. The source
of information I have is talking to students about courses and
learning from friends who have taken courses from those professors.
It's the word of mouth information you get.
I've always found it almost impossible to give knowledgeable
advice about the particular tracks within the liberal education
program or even an approximation of what courses are like. There
are just so many of them. And I'm just not often brought into
close contact with them. About all I know is what I've learned
Advisors were asked, "If you could have any type of information
you wanted to better help your advisees make decisions about what
courses to take, what would you want?" They wanted more elaborate
course descriptions and better information about when courses
will be offered. Advisors wanted more information about the workload
in the class, the requirements, the teaching methods used, and
a more detailed description of course content. A number of advisors
also mentioned that it is difficult for students to do long-range
planning when they have little or no information about when courses
will be offered.
As detailed a description as is possible about the course.
The bulletin has minimal information. Some departmental advising
offices keep on file more detailed course descriptions.
Course content. Like what's being offered in this course and
what are the expectations of students, what kind of knowledge
do they need to enter the course and perform successfully. So
an elaborated bulletin description would be very useful
Longer range information about when courses are available.
I work with students who are designing their own majors and so
in a sense the whole CLA bulletin is their menu. But it's like
going to a restaurant where half the things on the menu aren't
available in the kitchen.
Advisors thought students would like more information about instructors,
yet most felt it was inappropriate for them to give advice about
instructors unless it was to suggest those they knew were particularly
good teachers. One advisor commented:
They would like us to be able to help them by knowing where
the good quality instructors are. And that's always difficult
for us. It's something most of us shy away from. We might point
out people who are particularly strong in the classroom and avoid
discussing all those who we know are not. Plus it's a judgment
most of us are unwilling to make because it's not a personal experience.
....I don't really wish to be in the business of evaluating people's
Most advisors thought advisees develop an informal information
system to get information about instructors and courses from other
students. This grapevine becomes better developed the longer
students are at the University. Although advisors thought more
information about instructors and more detailed information about
courses would be helpful to students, some believed course selection
was often dictated by the time the course was offered or which
courses were still open at the time of registration.
Systems Already in Place at the University of Minnesota
Although the practice is not widespread, there are settings at
the University of Minnesota in which student evaluations of teaching
are made available to students to assist in their selection of
courses. The most recent addition to the list is the voluntary
release of student evaluation of teaching summaries for faculty
in the Carlson School of Management. Beginning in 1994 the Carlson
School invited interested faculty to provide access in a central
location of the results from evaluations of students enrolled
in courses they taught in previous quarters. Those summaries
are assembled in a notebook and are available to students who
wish to refer to them. No reliable data exist about the frequency
with which students currently review those notebooks, and no data
exist about the extent to which their review has affected their
course selections. Ultimately, if the student evaluation of teaching
summaries do not affect course selection, considerable time and
cost is spent with absolutely no outcome.
It is interesting to note, however, that there seems to be little
commentary from students about the availability of the results
from student evaluation of teaching. The July 1996 report The
CSOM Undergraduate Education Improvement Project, carried
out by six undergraduates with faculty supervision, as a result
of conducting focus groups and in-person interviews and surveying
147 students in the Carlson School identified issues and concerns
relative to these topics: instruction, communication, international/cultural
diversity, facilities, computer use/information, and coursework/classroom
time commitment. There was no mention in the report of students'
perceived needs for such information although students' concerns
about particular aspects of instruction (e.g., instructors' use
of diverse teaching strategies and availability during office
hours) suggests the possible usefulness of such questions. It
seems as if the issues of particular concern to student are not
well-represented in the five required questions.
Reliability and Validity of Student Evaluation of Teaching
The Office of Measurement Services provided considerable additional
data for use by the subcommittee. Summarized below are several
types of information that support the overall reliability and
validity of student evaluation data used in the current context
(i.e., for use in making personnel decisions).
In thinking about the issues posed to the subcommittee, there
are at least four separate concerns and empirical bases for coming
to a conclusion about the feasibility and value of making student
opinion data available to students to assist in course selection:
There is relatively little variation in the class means
The five required questions, designed to be used in personnel decisions may not be the questions students would most like to know about an instructor they wish to take
There would need to be clear guidelines about which results to make available, since there may be no value and some cost in providing the summary of student opinions if students do not have a choice as to course or instructor
The possible usefulness of student evaluation of teaching data
in helping students select courses depends on the range and variability
that currently exists in the data. Obviously, if all faculty
received the same overall rating, the data would be useless, since
no variability exists in student opinion about the quality of
teaching. Our analysis of data from the five required questions
suggests that there is limited variability in instructor means,
and that overall student opinion about the quality of teaching
is quite positive, as the results in Figure 7 below suggest.
Findings from over 20 years of research on student evaluations of teaching indicate the following general conclusions:
Student evaluations are useful as one component in the overall
evaluation of instructional effectiveness, but there is little
research on the usefulness of student opinions in helping other
students select courses. High ratings do not guarantee effective
instruction, nor do low ratings always mean ineffective instruction.
Peer evaluation of instruction, as mandated by the Senate Policy
on Evaluation of Teaching Contributions, self evaluations, and
reports of teaching activities and instructional development are
among other important information sources that should be considered
in the evaluation of teaching.
For personnel purposes, a small set of global questions has been
demonstrated to be more appropriate than a larger group of specific
questions (e.g., instructor's rapport with students or quality
of textbook). The most useful single item is "overall teaching
effectiveness." Students ratings of the instructor's knowledge
of the subject matter are best interpreted strictly as impressions
and are of questionable validity.
Research suggests that student evaluations are reliable (i.e.,
average ratings are reasonably consistent and do not change significantly
from one offering of a course to another), provided that neither
the student composition of the course not the instructional methods
have changed significantly. The response rate is important.
Data from classes in which fewer than 75 percent of the students
respond or in which there are fewer than 15 students may not provide
Student evaluations are a valid measure, but are not synonymous
with other measures, of teaching effectiveness. The correlation
of global student evaluations with external measures of amount
learned (e.g., final examination scores or course grades) is moderate
A range of student ratings is expected. Typically, ratings are
concentrated at the higher end of the rating scale, with a long
"tail" consisting of a few low ratings. However, different
distributions sometimes may occur and call attention to the possibility
of subgroups of students within the course who evaluate the course
Research indicates that average ratings may vary with characteristics
(co-variates) such as class size, class format (e.g., lecture
or discussion), course level, elective or required, and instructor
experience. Ratings tend to be higher for smaller classes, for
electives, for classes with a discussion format, and for classes
taught by an instructor with more experience. These possible
co-variates are important in any comparisons among instructors.
If students have access to student ratings they should avoid drawing
inferences or conclusions based upon small differences in ratings.
Responses are assigned integer values, but statistics are reported
with decimal precision. It is tempting but not justifiable to
infer differential teaching effectiveness from small differences
in average ratings. To obtain statistical significance, differences
may not indicate important differences in instructional effectiveness,
especially at the higher end of the ratings scale.
Reliability. This section describes different aspects
of the reliability of student evaluation of teaching.
One aspect of the reliability of student evaluation of teaching
concerns the "response rate" in a course (i.e., the
percentage of enrolled students who completed the opinion survey
in the course). Results, by course level, were aggregated across
three years (1993-94, 1994-95, and 1995-96) to obtain the overall
picture of response rates in Table 2 below.
The aggregate ratios from across all courses and instructors have
been remarkably consistent over the past three years. For most
items, the means varied by less than one-hundredth of a scale
Validity. This section presents selected information on
the validity of the five required student evaluation of teaching
Findings from the data support research from literature and the
"reasonableness" of the results from a validity perspective.
Full and associate professors are rated significantly higher
than teaching assistants in their knowledge of the subject matter.
In general, instructors of smaller classes receive higher ratings
in their overall teaching and concern for student than do those
who teach very large lecture courses. Ratings of assistant professors,
when followed across time, show statistically significant and
meaningful differences in average ratings in the areas of overall
teaching and learning.
The ratings received by faculty who have received the Morse Alumni
Award are higher for all five of the required items, as the results
in Table 3 indicate. The analysis was based in results from the
Student Evaluation of Teaching for persons who received Morse
Teaching Awards during the years 1989-1995, compared to the mean
ratings of overall teaching for the general population of University
of Minnesota instructors for 1995-96. The frequency distributions
for recipients are more highly skewed on the high end of the scale
when compared to the general population. Collapsed averages for
recipients, over three years remained constant, suggesting little
variance in the quality of their teaching over a three year period.
One way in which validity of the five items is demonstrated by
the differences between and among ratings of groups of faculty/types
of courses that are consistent with hypothesized differences relative
to the quality of teaching. It was within the time limitations
of the subcommittee to explore this aspect of validity on great
detail, although some evidence was collected that is supportive.
First, the results in Table 3 below compare the mean ratings for
faculty who have received the Morse Alumni Teaching Award with
the overall means for all faculty/courses. The results indicate
that the awardees received consistently higher ratings on all
|Knowledge of subject|
|Respect for students|
|Amount students learned|
Another type of analysis compared mean ratings for the five items
based on instructor level, course level and class size. Those
results are summarized in Figures 8, 9 and 10 respectively.
As the results in Figure 8 suggest, the mean ratings by instructor
level were quite similar across the levels from teaching assistant
to full professor. The one item that indicated the largest difference
was "Instructor's knowledge of the subject matter,"
for which the means increased as rank increased.
Results in Figure 9 for class level indicate that 1xxx level courses
tended to have the lowest means, except for the item rating the
classroom physical environment.
Finally, results in Figure 10 relative to class size are consistent
with other literature that indicates that ratings for courses
with smaller class size are higher than for courses that are larger.
It is important to note that neither the analysis of class level
or class size took into account other correlated variables that
also have been shown to correlate with level of student evaluation.
Students in Class