ASUCI Academic Affairs Vice President Oracio Sanchez is currently working to reinstate the Teacher Evaluation and Course Handbook (TEACH) program to release teacher evaluations to students.
Established in the 1980s under the supervision of the ASUCI Academic Affairs Office, TEACH’s goal was to collect, compile and distribute teacher evaluations to students. According to a letter sent out to faculty members on behalf of TEACH in 1999, the program wished to publish teacher evaluations so that students could “get an idea of how classes and professors were evaluated” in order to better match their learning style with a professor’s teaching style.
The program was dependent on the voluntary participation of the different schools on campus. Some schools, such as the School of Social Sciences, participated fully and released all their teacher evaluations, while others, such as the Schools of Humanities and Arts, left participation to the discretion of each faculty member. The evaluations were later compiled and made public to students.
The program was an early success and continued to be supported by the student body. In 2003, ASUCI Academic Affairs Vice President Charlene Manalo received the approval of the ASUCI Legislative Council to expand the TEACH program and make faculty evaluations available to students online. However, a year later, the momentum came to a halt and the TEACH program, after nearly two decades, was dead.
While student access to faculty evaluations is a thing of the past, encouraging students to complete the evaluation is a continuing priority for the administration. The evaluations serve as part of the file, alongside research and service, for assessing faculty members who are up for promotions or tenure.
However, students are currently apathetic and only a few complete the online evaluations. The issue was serious enough to warrant discussion in the Academic Senate, a faculty-based governing body. In the 2007-08 Annual Report released by the Academic Senate’s Council on Student Experience, the council dealt with the issue of low response rates and considered, but rejected, the idea of withholding grades until student-based evaluations were completed. Instead, the council recommended that “instructors might improve [the] response rate of online evaluations by emphasizing the importance of evaluations and reminding students that evaluation ratings and comments could lead to future improvements.”
However, according to Sanchez that would not work.
“Since evaluations aren’t public and there is no accountability, professors might not feel the need to change their course or teaching styles. The sure way of improving response rates is to be able to publicly assess ratings because there would be more incentive for students to participate in the evaluation process.”
His point is echoed by students at UC San Diego who have had access to their teacher evaluations under the student-run Course and Professor Evaluations (CAPE) program since 1972.
“Since the evaluations are open to students,” said third-year UCSD undergraduate student James Yoon, “I don’t see filling them out as a burden. I see it as a responsibility. I want to make sure other students share my positive pedagogical experiences and avoid the negative ones. The students look out for each other and fill out the evaluations with a candor that would be missing if the evaluations were private.”
The CAPE program garners its popularity from its easy accessibility online. Students are able to view professor’s latest evaluations as they sign up for classes. Among other things, students can view how well a course or instructor is recommended, relevancy of reading material and the amount of time the course demands.
“It introduces a level of competition,” said third-year UCSD undergrad Deepak Ravi. “But that competition is healthy because professors can no longer ignore their students. It results in a better educational experience.”
However, many critics point out that giving students access to teacher evaluations would be counterproductive. Faculty members may alter their behaviors, but not in a manner that would improve the level of education. Faculty will be pushed toward teaching styles that are popular with students. They may become entertainers rather than instructors. Others eliminate the grade leniency hypothesis which predicts that the less effort students have to put into a class the higher they will rate their experience within it.
“Such assumptions degrade students,” said Deepak. “At USCD, we vote anonymously and we vote honestly. Teachers who receive high ratings do so because students come out of their classes more knowledgeable, not because they’ve been entertained or received the easy A.”
UCI Dean of Undergraduate Education Sharon Salinger agrees that “students are able to distinguish between the quality of class and difficulty of class.”
Salinger supports the idea of making the outcomes of evaluations open to students.
“Faculty have to trust that students will fill out the evaluations with seriousness and share the same goals.”
She indicated that both students and faculty would prefer it to third-party sites such as ratemyprofessors.com which are plagued by sampling bias.
Sanchez and Salinger feel that wide support for the idea exists and that the idea can be implemented if it is more widely discussed. A push came recently in a report released by the UCI’s Council on Educational Policy (CEP) that recommended “the outcomes of teaching evaluations should be available to all students on campus” as a way to improve teaching in the classrooms.
Whether the recommendation by CEP gets ignored or adopted will be determined by further faculty.