I guess students don't like me (long-ish)

Evaluations just posted today. My “overall effectiveness” score was 4.29/5, not bad but not as good as I expected. The only class I have been teaching for a few semesters now is a basic intro to operations management. The way the course is structured, though is odd. Students attend a large lecture (250+ students) once a week, and a discussion section (~30) once per week. I teach the discussion section, which is the only part that is evaluated, even though I have no actual control over the content or requirements of the course. The course coordinator handles all of that; my job is to help students put together a presentation and then grade it. I also review quantitative homework problems before they take their exams (the content of which I have no control over).

Ideally, all these discussion sections should be about the same; my colleagues and I are all essentially doing the same thing. Yet I consistently get lower ratings for “Relevance of the course” and “Course materials are useful.” I don’t get it. I do try to tie in everything that we do into the main message of operations management. I think I’m nice, and my grade distribution is not very different from everyone else’s.

My only thoughts are that I am the youngest instructor of the group, and also an American. Many of my colleagues are Chinese, Korean, Thai, or Indian, and most are over 30. Some are even in their early 60s.

My question: In your (either student or instructor) experience, does the age/ethnicity of an instructor affect the ratings students give an instructor?


And is this a self-congratulatory whoosh, or did you mistype your score? Because 4.29 on a five point scale is great.

Well, that depends on the real-world range of scores, doesn’t it? Maybe students at this school, for whatever reason, rarely give scores outside the 3-5 range. (Perhaps the survey is worded oddly, or the students who hate the course just don’t bother with evaluations, or students are simply nice). In that case, a 4.29 would indeed be a lackluster score. On the other hand, I’m not convinced these evaluations are all that meaningful or useful.

I wouldn’t get too worked up about this. My habit was to mark straight 3/5 unless there had been something remarkable, good or bad. If anything, lower scores in Relevance of the Course and Course Materials are Useful may be trying to tell you that you gave them a lot of information that they didn’t use, either in their exams or in their presentations. I imagine the free-form questions that are usually on the back of these forms would be a lot more useful to you, if they were asked and if you’re given the responses to them.

I suppose this could matter if it had consequences for your progress as a degree candidate, but in that case you’d want to take your concerns to your department or your advisor, and not to the dope. As for race, I would mark down if there was some kind of communication barrier that impeded learning, but for no other reason.

No, I’m sincere. The 4.29 is good, I’ll admit. But my main point–and I probably should have put it earlier in the post–is that I consistently get lower ratings than my colleagues in the area of “Course materials are relevant and useful” and “Course is relevant” questions. This despite the fact that neither I nor they have any control over course content and requirements; they are set by the course coordinator. All my colleagues and I do is help students put together projects, grade them, and help with homework. Thus, I don’t see what I’m doing wrong.

It could be that I just don’t communicate the value of the course to the students, but I’m wondering if it could be more than that, especially since some of my colleagues speak barely understandable English (two of them failed the English fluency exam three times before last semester, and thus were not allowed to teach before then). I am not the only one who has difficulty understanding them, by the way.

Basically, I’m wondering if students are more lenient with older and/or international instructors. Perhaps a larger age difference between students and the instructor gives the instructor a boost because he/she is not seen as a peer, but as an authority. And perhaps there is some soft bigotry going on that makes students give international instructors “extra points” for being nice and “trying.” I have my own anecdotes that have suggested these possibilities. I’m just wondering if anyone else has any.

All in all, student evaluations are largely B.S.

There are statistically significant and positive correlations between an instructor’s ease of grading and student evaluations. More attractive instructors get higher evaluations. Women tend to get poorer evaluations then men.

Inappropriate questions, i.e, What is “overall effectiveness”? Are students given a list of criteria to judge? How do students judge their own role.

Lots of students use it as an opportunity to get back at a teacher but those evaluations are included. A more reasonable solution would be to drop the bottom and top 5 percent of evaluations to exclude the whiners and brown nosers.

Sample sizes are often not met which make the results statistically invalid but they are still used.

So don’t sweat it. Once semester I taught the exact same class and got very different evaluations. The only thing that was different was the students.

There lots of research on this, for example…

Web-based student evaluations of professors: the relations between perceived quality, easiness and sexiness. By: Felton, James; Mitchell, John; Stinson, Michael. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Feb2004, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p91, 18p

Age is also a negative factor in evaluations. Gray hair gives one scholarly legitimacy. I very much doubt that they are getting a boost for being international. Usually it is a penalty especially if their English is bad. But if they are older, students tend to assume that the really know their stuff even if there is not proof.

Again, don’t sweat it. It very likely has anything to do with what you are doing. If you truly want to improve your teaching ask an experienced teacher to sit in and observe and give you feedback. They actually know what to look for (unlike the student who are evaluating) and can give good suggestions.

Finally, the easiest ways to increase your student evals is to (1) give them on a day that students are not required to be there. The slackers (who don’t understand what’s going on anyway) will skip class and your overall score will go up. (2) Pass out cookies/candy the class or two prior to the evaluations. You can do the day of but this looks a little crass. As silly as it sounds, people who have some history of passing out snacks get better evals.

Again, don’t sweat it…

Thanks for the perspectives everyone. Spudbucket, your idea of giving the evals on a day when it is not required to show up is great. What I have been doing is requiring attendance on evaluation day, but now I see that as not in my best interest. Thanks for the heads up!

For those who say it doesn’t really matter and that evals are a sham, I tend to agree. But, depending on the type of school I’m looking to go to, hiring committees look at teaching evaluations as part of the hiring process. I’m not going to kid you–I’m not getting into a Tier I research powerhouse; I haven’t been productive enough. So it looks like those evals will factor in more.

Evals also have a major impact in my college (business) because of our MBA program. It brings in looooots of money, and the administration wants to keep those student numbers up. I heard from a reliable source that one professor is on thin ice because his average scores are a little above 2/5.

Thus, evals do matter, no matter how poorly they measure “effectiveness.”

Understood. Unfortunately this is often the case and why the current evaluation system is such B.S.* BUT…as long you understand that it is B.S. you can work with it. Also, if you can get students to write you a nice evaluation letter that can be useful. It is not common and therefore would make you stand out to a hiring committee. Wait until after the class is over of course…

  • The one caveat I would make is that evaluations can be a useful indicator of someone who is really bad in the classroom. A 2 out of 5 strongly suggests that the teacher is really off.

One reason you might be getting marked low for relevancy of course content could be a badly-worded question which leaves students thinking, “Well, he doesn’t actually do anything with course content, so I guess I can’t give him a high mark on that.”

Other than that, it sounds like a fairly good mark, and I’d suggest this might be a good time to practice your “let go of it” exercises. :slight_smile:

Students in the other sections may find the course materials more valuable because they must rely on them more, due to difficulties in understanding the other teachers.

I was coming in to say exactly this. If you don’t need to use the book because your instructor explains things better, then the book becomes irrelevant.

What spudbucket said. While i have, in the past, received some useful comments in student evaluations, overall i completely reject that idea that a bunch of 18-year-old freshmen are in any way qualified to evaluate the content that i’m teaching them, especially when they’re too fucking lazy to do the weekly reading for the whole semester and then complain that the papers i set were too long or the questions were “too hard.”

Suck it up, crybabies.

Also, while i understand the reason behind anonymous evaluations, they are really quite counterproductive. Knowing who made the comments would allow me to evaluate how seriously to take them. If i get a comment like “I think there was too much reading, and it was too hard” from a student who came to every class and who clearly worked hard all semester, i’m going to be much more receptive to it than if the same comment comes from some lazy-ass slacker who missed half the classes and turned in every paper late.

OP, if you want your evals to improve, bring chocolate to class.

Ah, when it’s all said and done, when the heavy thinking and writing and wrangling and twisting and theorizing and cogitating is done and over with, it’s chocolate and cookies and sweets and reducing the vote that count most. Life is so simple, if only we’d stop to purchase chocolate more often. And if it’s dark chocolate (like 90%) it’s also good for you! :wink:

Darn right. And they never explain “too,” which is, after all, a relative term. “Too much reading” as opposed to what? The first line of Goodnight, Moon? “Too hard” as opposed to putting a new app on a Facebook page?

The only reason that evaluations take up seemingly one-third of our contract where I work is that we had to trade off in that area so we could make gains in others, as far as I can tell. It’s a bunch of jumping-through-hoops crap.

Evals can also vary wildly within the same class:


Good point! I never thought of that.

Hmmm…bribery…Well, I do teach in the college of business, so I suppose it makes sense. :stuck_out_tongue:

This. Having received literally over a thousand evaluations over the years, I’ve learned to scan them to see if there’s anything that stands out as unusual relative to past evaluations. Invariably, nothing new to learn. This is quite different from the early days when I would take overly negative or positive comments too seriously. I suspect the OP is new to teaching. What I’ve found is that there’s definitely some bias going on in the evaluations – not due to age or race or gender – but due to the students performance in the class. That’s because the anonymous comments in the evaluations are mostly consistent with the students’ self-assessment of how well they’ve done in the course. Am I responsible for the students’ performances? To some extent, yes, but a larger part is due to their preparation outside of class which is outside my control. However, note this: I give the same lectures, quizzes, tests to all students, but (based on the evaluations) in the same class, one student can detest me while another would adore me. Guess which one did poorly in the class? I also think there’s a personality clash sometimes with some students. I don’t coddle students and some students want to be spoon-fed. The evaluations do have value though – if they’re uniformly bad, that’s not good, and some corrective action is needed.

I’m 32 (but look much younger) and have been training people for five years. The people the most likely to give me attitude have been those my parents’ ages or older, and my age in relation to theirs has been the issue. Other trainers, especially other younger women, have also gotten comments that make it clear that a small but vocal minority of older people feel it is beneath them to have to work under someone half their age. Apparently authority is something that should only be given to people with gray hair (preferably also with penises). :rolleyes:

Is that the issue in your classroom? I couldn’t say, but age does cause some issues in workplaces with similar group dynamics.