Alternatives to Student Evaluations of Teaching

Categories: Bargaining, Bargaining Updates 2019, student evaluations of teaching

On the matter of student evaluations of teaching (SEoT), our position is clear: we propose that these measures not be used in the summative evaluation of teaching for appointment, reappointment, promotion, and tenure. The invalidity of these instruments has been known for a long time; the evidence that they are also biased against protected classes of people increases seemingly weekly. (A 2018 Ryerson University arbitration recognized that this makes them unsuitable for their use by the employer to evaluate teaching effectiveness.) We of course recognize the potential usefulness of student opinion for instructors seeking to improve their teaching and we well imagine some form of SEoTs (or TEQ’s, at UBC-O) continuing to be used for such formative purposes.

A fairly comprehensive survey of the current state of the literature on bias in SEoTs is online: Course Evaluations: Concerns with Gender and Racial Bias; Bibliography (Rebecca Kreitzer). We have outlined all this in our blog post “Student Opinion Surveys” (May 31, 2019).

One concern that has arisen at the table regarding this proposal is that if we did not use SEoTs to evaluate teaching effectiveness, it is unclear what we would use. We find this response puzzling for at least four reasons:

1. The lack of availability of other forms of evaluation, even if it were the case, would not be a reason to continue to use an invalid and biased measure.

2. But there are other evaluation instruments not only available but indeed already in use for several years at UBC. UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology has a comprehensive section on their website on the summative peer review of teaching. Peer review of teaching has been implemented in several faculties at UBC including the Faculty of Arts (Peer Review of Teaching Guide, Peer Review of Teaching Instructions, Peer Review of Teaching Assessment Observation Guidelines – “Resources” – download) and the Faculty of Science (Peer Review of Teaching, Guidelines). We think it is evident that a great deal more thought regarding what teaching effectiveness is and expertise in the evaluation of it can be found in these processes than in SEoTs.

3. Still other forms of evaluation of teaching effectiveness are being developed; some of these have been developed at UBC: for example, the Teaching Practices Inventory developed at UBC by Carl Wieman and Sarah Gilbert. The inventory evaluates the design and delivery of science courses against features that the peer-reviewed literature has found makes such courses effective.

4. Our sister universities also provide many resources. The University of Oregon details their project to implement a better assessment of teaching in “Revising UO’s Teaching Evaluations”. They place stress on, for example, instructor self reflection. On USC’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching website are tools and templates supporting the proper use of peer evaluation and the development of teaching statements.

5. These and other resources can be found in the Statement on Teaching Evaluations written by the American Sociological Association and endorsed by about twenty other learned societies.

It is past time to stop relying on an instrument that is known to be grossly inadequate for the role it plays. We are certain that UBC has the will and the ability to continue to develop comprehensive assessments of teaching effectiveness that do not conflate such effectiveness with student satisfaction and do not discriminate on prohibited grounds.

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