As the semester is drawing to a close and students are receiving their earned final grades, the time may be opportune to shed some light, once more, on the "grades" faculty receive in the form of course evaluations. While there are some issues with our university’s current online system, especially the lack of a centrally administered method to ensure participation, it would be good to remind us as members of an institute of higher learning that any private websites purporting to be of assistance by offering students the opportunity to rate their instructors should be treated with caution.
It has now been more than a dozen years since I first addressed some of the pitfalls of privately owned teacher review sites in The Gamecock, but very little has changed since. The problem is not just one of validity, causing evaluations to be biased toward attracting only the most positive and most negative reviews, but also that even the most well-meaning reviews can provide a less than accurate picture of a course. Worse still, such for-profit sites do not operate on the basis of the educational criteria and high academic standards we hold dear in our university.
Just recently, for instance, I reported for removal a rating that was very positive but accidentally also misstated that the final exam in one of my own courses would be based only on the tests administered throughout the semester, which is decidedly not the case. Upon my reporting, however, the rating was not removed, because misstatements of fact, as it turned out, do not violate the site’s guidelines. Let that sink in, if you will.
Yet, as always, something can be done. As private review websites by definition lack legitimacy, we should appeal to our own university to nullify the negative impact they may and surely do have. It strikes me as odd, in that context, that the summary statistics of our university’s evaluations are not made available to students. Those ratings are collected electronically and could therefore also easily be posted on the university website. Even during my graduate student days some twenty-odd years ago, such online reporting systems were already in place.
Until such a change is made, instructors can make their scores available on their webpages. But we can and should, as students and instructors alike, appeal to our university to make ours a better learning and teaching environment by offering clarity and transparency when we can.