All Students Can Recognize Good Teaching: Just Ask Them

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This fall semester is about over and soon students will be responding to the SRTEs. For many students, the opportunity to give feedback to their instructors, is a phenomenon that begins in college. That trend, however, is changing. According to the article "Why Kids Should Grade Teachers" a growing number of American schools across the country are asking their students, some as young as kindergarten, to evaluate their teachers.

Some interesting findings are emerging. Student ratings tend to be fairly stable from class to class and from fall to spring. Race and income done have much impact on results. What is clear is that students are looking for a classroom where the teacher has control and makes learning challenging. And one city, Memphis, has become the first school system in the country to link survey results to teachers' annual reviews by having the surveys count for 5% of a teacher's evaulation. 

A variety of questions are being asked on these surveys, but the five most correlated with student learning are listed below:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn't waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

What can those of us in higher education learn from this article? Are we, for example, asking the right questions? Are we using the information we gather from students to define quality teaching and to inform better practice?

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This post got me thinking about sites where students can voluntarily provide ratings of university instructors--sites like http://www.ratemyprofessors.com, http://www.professorperformance.com, and http://www.koofers.com. If students are reasonable observers and judges of instructor quality, what are we to make of forums like this? In a 2008 article in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Otto et al. explored this question:

http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/JOURNALS/A080800O.pdf

I also couldn't resist resurrecting an article from two decades ago...Felder's piece from Chemical Engineering Education:

http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/JOURNALS/A080800O.pdf

From the research that's out there on student ratings, it seems clear that there's plenty of good information to be extracted from them. If kindergarten teachers are now responding to systematic feedback, surely we can attend to our undergraduates' thoughts.

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