Course and faculty evaluations come mainly in the form of Student Rating of Teaching Effectiveness. This year, my scores are up by 0.2-0.5 units (on the 7 point scale), reversing the general decline I’ve experienced over the last few years. Since I can not standardize myself (I hope I change), I bench mark the whole thing to the otherwise very dull question of the clarity of the syllabus (my syllabus is the same each year). I think of this as a measure of class orneriness. Syllabus clarity got a mean score of 6.22, up from the 5.75 of last year. So I guess the class of 2014 was 8% less ornery than last year. But since that jump was one of the biggest, it might mean that in real terms (i.e. orneriness-adjusted), the class is actually a little less satisfied than last year.
Or it might mean that I am making WAY too much of these scores, which above a certain threshold (4?), really should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s the comments the student’s write that are valuable.
When I started the course in 2010, I wanted to hear what all the students thought, so I bribed the class with extra credit if they could get an SRTE return rate of over 85%. This resulted in my course getting one of the highest return rates on campus (c. 90%). This year I decided to do away with the bribe. That resulted in a 47% return rate. I thought the rate would be lower, especially since I only urged the students to do the SRTEs once, and then to a class room near half empty. Staring at the numbers and the comments, I don’t see any major differences from previous years. I guess the motivated and the disgruntled do the STREs whatever; I assume the missing 40% had nothing much to say. In fact, in the spirit of Christmas good cheer, I will assume they were all neutral to moderately happy. The group I’d like to have heard from were the 12 who dropped the course. They never tell you why. I hope it was not to do with me or SC200.
My own feeling is that students can’t really assess how valuable a course was, or how good their teacher, until many years later. That’s particularly so for Freshmen in their first semester. I’d love to hear from any of them as their Penn State careers progress. Better yet, after graduation. Cocktails in Zolas anyone? What was good? What could I do better?