This is a cross-post of today’s content on Teaching United States History, where I am blogging during the current academic year.
Student teaching evaluations are notoriously flawed. At best, they are unreliable. (They are, on the other hand, reliably sexist.) Educators are understandably cynical about them, not only because of student bias but also because of the arbitrary ways they’re sometimes used. “The less time we spend talking about teaching, the better,” I once heard a senior academic say during a job search; this same professor was rumored to have used poor teaching evaluations to sink the tenure application of someone he disliked. A friend of mine even believes a colleague wrote fake Rate My Professors entries to use against him at a promotion hearing.
Yet student course evaluations are part of life for most college instructors. Is there any way to make them more useful, or at least to mitigate the harm they can do? I’ve found two things moderately helpful.