University of Vermont

College of Education and Social Sciences

Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Scott H. Baker: Faculty Perceptions as a Foundation for Evaluating Use of Student Evaluations of Teaching (2014-08-29)

Baker, Scott H. | 527 Waterman | 2014-08-29 | 9:00 a.m.

Amidst ever-growing demands for accountability and increased graduation rates to help justify the rising costs of higher education, few topics in undergraduate education elicit a broader range of responses than student evaluations of teaching (SETs).  Despite debates over their efficacy, SETs are increasingly used as formative (pedagogical practices) and summative (employee reviews) assessments of faculty teaching. Proponents contend SETs are a necessary component in measuring the quality of education a student receives, arguing that they further enable educators to reflect upon their own pedagogy and thus informing best practices, and that they are a valid component in summative evaluations of faculty.  Skeptics argue that SETs are ineffective as the measurements themselves are invalid and unreliable, students are not qualified evaluators of teaching, and faculty may lower educational standards due to pressure for higher ratings in summative evaluations. This study dives more deeply into this debate by exploring faculty perceptions of SETs.

Through the use of surveys of 27 full- and part-time faculty within one division at a private, four-year teaching-focused college, this study explored faculty perceptions of SETs primarily as an initial step in a larger process seeking to evaluate perceived and potential efficacy of SETs.  Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected and analyzed using Patton’s (2008) Utilization-Focused Evaluation (UFE) framework for engaging evidence based upon a four-stage process in which evaluation findings are analyzed, interpreted, judged, and recommendations for action are generated, with all steps involving intended users.  Overall, the study data suggests that faculty were generally very supportive of SETs for formative assessments, and strongly reported their importance and use for evaluating their own pedagogy.  Findings also indicated faculty relied primarily upon the students’ written qualitative comments over the quantitative reports generated by externally determined scaled-questions on the SETs. Faculty also reported the importance of SETs as part of their own summative evaluations, yet expressed concern about overreliance upon them and again indicated a desire for a more meaningful process.

The utility of the UFE framework for SETs, has implications beyond the institution studied, nearly every higher education institution is faced with increasing demands for accountability of student learning from multiple stakeholders.  Additionally, many institutions are grappling with policies on SETs in summative and formative evaluation and to what extent faculty and administrators do—and perhaps should—utilize SETs in measuring teaching effectiveness is a pertinent question for any institution of higher education to examine. Thus, the study suggests that to what extent faculty reflect upon SETs, and to what extent they utilize feedback, is a salient issue at any institution; and Patton’s model has the potential to maximize the utility of SETs for many relevant stakeholders, especially faculty.

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