Monday, March 04, 2013

Necessity of Student Course Evaluation

In "The Unnecessary Agony of Student Evaluations", Spurgeon Thompson (1 March 2013,The Chronicle of Higher Education) writes that American universities are treating students too much like consumers, with excess emphasis placed on student feedback evaluations of courses and teachers. They contrast this with the European approach, where universities are mostly free, but difficult to get into and argue that American universities do not have as much consumer choice as it may appear.

In Australia, my impression is that we have, as in so many fields, steered a middle course, between the USA and Europe, with some use of student feedback. While lecturers grumble about the feedback results, it is having a positive effect. Some of my colleagues who have for years looked with at best tolerance on my use of new teaching practices are now coming t me to ask how it is done. The reason they are asking is that my student feedback scores are very high and theirs are very low. It is not that I set out to get high scores, it is just a by-product of good teaching. While lecturers may be reluctant to acknowledge that their teaching practices are out of date, it is hard to argue when the Dean wants to know why you are dragging the faculty results down.

One point I differ with Thompson on is the choices USA student have. Thompson argues that US universities effectively have a captive market, a US student has no choice but to attend a US institution. However, a student can choose to study overseas if they wish, they can do this by physically moving, or, increasingly, study on-line. Not only will US campuses have to increasingly have to compete with overseas ones, but also with their own virtual campuses. While much has been made of MOOCs, the real revolution is in the use of new more responsive teaching methods, which can be used on-line , in a classroom, or a blend of both. One a student has experienced teaching which does not talk down to them and responds to their needs in a timely and supportive fashion, they will not want to go back to old fashioned "Shut up and take notes" lectures.

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