Grad­ing your pro­fes­sor

Course eval­u­a­tions un­der­used by stu­dents.



school is dif­fer­ent. At Dal­housie, they’re SRIs—Stu­dent Rat­ings of In­struc­tion. At Saint Mary’s, they’re ICEs—In­struc­tor/ Course Eval­u­a­tions. Mount Saint Vin­cent is still old-school, us­ing pa­per and pen­cil, while Dal switched to an on­line sys­tem six years ago (sav­ing a mil­lion sheets of pa­per an­nu­ally). But each univer­sity has the same goal: To get stu­dent feed­back on class in­struc­tion.

Those stu­dents are prob­a­bly more wor­ried about the grades they’ll re­ceive this year, than the rat­ing they’ll give their in­struc­tors in re­turn, but those eval­u­a­tions play a vi­tal part in im­prov­ing how pro­fes­sors teach.

Brad Wueth­er­ick is ex­ec­u­tive director of Dal­housie Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Learn­ing and Teach­ing. It’s un­der his ju­ris­dic­tion to send out the school’s SRIs. Years ago, stu­dents didn’t play an ac­tive role in pro­fes­sor eval­u­a­tion, says Wueth­er­ick: “The rea­son we have manda­tory eval­u­a­tions is be­cause of stu­dent lead­ers, who ar­gued over the years that the stu­dent voice needs to be part of the eval­u­a­tion of teach­ing.”

The forms aren’t manda­tory, but stu­dents are given class time to com­plete them. Ac­cord­ing to Wueth­er­ick, fewer than half of Dal­housie’s stu­dents are fill­ing out their eval­u­a­tions. He’s work­ing with pro­fes­sors and the stu­dent union to im­prove those re­sponse rates.

“The more fac­ulty can ex­plain to stu­dents the value of get­ting feed­back, the more likely the stu­dents are to ac­tu­ally fill out the forms,” he says.

The SRIs are just one com­po­nent of eval­u­a­tion—al­beit an im­por­tant one—ac­cord­ing to MSVU’s dean of ed­u­ca­tion Sal Badali. “Stu­dent eval­u­a­tions are help­ful in iden­ti­fy­ing teach­ing strengths and areas for im­prove­ment,” Badali says, “in iden­ti­fy­ing gaps be­tween ex­pec­ta­tions of stu­dents and in­struc­tors.”

The eval­u­a­tions are sim­i­lar across in­sti­tu­tions: MSVU asks 10 ques­tions on a scale of one to five, Dal’s eval­u­a­tions have eight ques­tions and SMU’s have 29. They in­clude cat­e­gories like or­ga­ni­za­tion, fair­ness and feed­back.

“The kind of stan­dards that we would hope that in­struc­tors are able to demon­strate,” says Wueth­er­ick.

The uni­ver­si­ties also all have sec­tions for open com­ments. Pro­fes­sors at Dal and SMU can ask more than the stan­dard ques­tions if they choose.

“If a prof wanted spe­cific feed­back on some­thing in the course, they can add ques­tions on that,” Wueth­er­ick says. But why write eval­u­a­tions in the first place? “They’re used by in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty mem­bers to make im­prove­ments in teach­ing,” says Cale Loney, com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer at SMU. “To as­sess their over­all stand­ing in com­par­i­son to other cour­ses in the same fac­ulty and at a sim­i­lar level.”

Saint Mary’s takes a var­ied ap­proach where pro­fes­sors self-re­flect, but are also sub­ject to peer re­view. The ICEs are seen by the dean and depart­ment chair, as well as the Univer­sity Re­view and Ap­point­ment Com­mit­tees.

“The ICE and the sug­gested im­prove­ments can have an im­pact in ten­ure and pro­mo­tion de­ci­sions,” Loney says.

At Dal­housie, only a se­lect few lay eyes on the eval­u­a­tions: The depart­ment head, the dean and the pro­fes­sor them­selves—and all anony­mously. Wueth­er­ick says Dal­housie is work­ing to­wards up­grad­ing the eval­u­a­tion process to a more holis­tic ap­proach—one that will in­cor­po­rate peer feed­back on whether or not a course was serv­ing the in­tended pur­pose of the pro­gram.

“A lot of fac­ulty can be quite ner­vous about the feed­back that they’re get­ting be­cause they’re not get­ting good re­sponse rates,” says Wueth­er­ick. “And even if you’ve got re­ally good re­sponse rates, how do you use the eval­u­a­tion ef­fec­tively?”

So this se­mes­ter, re­mem­ber: Your pro­fes­sor needs a good grade from you just as much as you need one from them.

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