It is student evaluation of Instruction, SEI, time and they drive many college instructors around the bend. Lyell Asher took the bait on the WSJ editorial page about a month ago. Academics forsake intellectual thought when they rail against SEI scores. He starts early with a false statement,
The problem is that, for the vast majority of colleges and universities, student opinion is the only means by which administrators evaluate teaching.
As anyone in academia knows assessment or some version of it like assurance of learning is the rage today. A promotion file without assessment faces hard sledding today.
Asher compares faculty to food inspectors and asks if restaurants should evaluate the food inspectors. He recognizes it is a poor analogy because faculty are not just inspectors of student work. We inform, lead, cajole, and do some inspection. But let’s accept that faculty do as little as Asher suggests in the first paragraph and make a comparison to current issues: the IRS and its clients, particularly conservative individuals or organizations. Feedback from those individuals and organizations has been very useful in evaluating the IRS.
Student opinion is an interesting term. If we accept a more interactive relationship between student and faculty (yes, they are our customers but it is a complicated sale arrangement) then it becomes even more obvious that students should be part of faculty teaching evaluation. They see us every day. They see the good days and the bad days. They are very experienced in receiving teaching as traditional age students have been in school for way over half of their lives. They are not subject matter experts but few individuals know more about teaching than they do. Students are exactly the folks we want as part of faculty evaluation.
Dustin York has a great post at Ragan’s PR Daily. The post is about good communication skills- as you know from rock concerts hold your hands high with palms up- but it also make the point that students learn better in this environment. To be precise, students learn more with the material held constant when the presenter uses good communication skills. My conclusion is that this means that SEI scores are connected to learning. This doesn’t mean there isn’t an actor somewhere that can’t bamboozle the students or the faculty for that matter. It just means that on average, SEI scores are related to our goal of student learning.
Asher and many others, some published and some hallway conversations, identify the problem. Several faculty have been as bold to say that they are worried about SEI scores and they will need to lighten up on the grading. Many faculty have an irrational fear of SEI scores and that leads to bad outcomes. Put another way, because faculty don’t understand student behavior in assigning SEI scores they take actions that have little or no impact on SEI scores but a bigger impact on student learning. There might be a cynic out there that thinks that complaining about SEI scores is a cover for inappropriate educational practice but I’m not there yet.