BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning said only about 60 percent of students complete teacher evaluations online each semester.
Trav Johnson, assistant director of BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said the response percentage is significantly lower than when evaluations were done on paper. Because of decreases in participation, Johnson thinks there are improvements that can be made in the way evaluations are presented to the student population.
Johnson oversees the student rating system and is part of a task force looking for ways to improve the process.
“There are two improvements that I hope occur,” Johnson said. “Number one: to help students realize how important (evaluations) are and to be conscientious about giving feedback, and number two: to help faculty see that the students take these (evaluations) seriously so they pay attention to what students say.”
Student ratings are just one of three evaluations professors go through for administrators to determine their rank and status. Johnson said students do have more influence than they might think and that it is important for them to explain in detail what they do or do not like and what would be most helpful to their learning, instead of just saying they are unhappy. He said when this happens, faculty can more easily find a positive way to respond to the issue.
“It is always nice to have both parties working together,” Johnson said.
Christine Moore, Ph.D., the BYU Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) coordinator, has dealt with teacher evaluations for almost 40 years, from both sides of the issue. As a public school teacher and teacher mentor for 30 years, Moore saw the benefits of honest critique in student evaluations.
“Teaching is reciprocal, meaning a teacher must meet the needs, input and backgrounds of the students,” Moore said. “A teacher needs student feedback so that teaching and learning can be improved.”
Moore said students giving an instructor low marks to get back at an instructor is not an accurate assessment of what has gone on in the class.
“Mean-spirited assessments destroy rather than help instructors improve their practice,” she said. “If students will give honest, constructive feedback to teachers, it can be a very valuable tool for improvement.”
Moore said this it is important that student feedback is evaluated cautiously and carefully.
As an administrator and instructor in the BYU Family and Consumer Science Education program for nine years, Moore said she has seen the importance of evaluating teachers through many avenues of assessment, not basing it on student evaluations alone.
“I think it is important for peers and administrators to be in on the process as well,” Moore said. “But it is reality that a lot of emphasis is placed upon student evaluations.”
The perspective of Drew Wilde, a junior in the humanities college, provides a student’s perspective on the significance of evaluations. He thinks they are useful because they provide an avenue for praise or critique, but despite the good they do, Wilde called them a “necessary evil.”
“They are annoying and cumbersome, but we’d be worse without them,” he said. “The purpose is to gather data on student satisfaction and opinion to the end of improving the learning experience.”
Sean Decatur, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College, said in a New York Times article that evaluations with written comments are more valuable than numerical rankings. “Students may not be experienced pedagogues, but they are experienced learners,” Decatur said. “When reading many evaluations, broader patterns emerge in the comments and outliers are readily dismissed.”
BYU administrators encourage all to participate in student evaluations because they take into account all submitted evaluations and instructors improve their teaching style by reading the detailed comments made by students.