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May 16, 2002

Turning the tables: Students want access to evaluation results

Where's the student in student evaluations of teachers?

Over the years, Pitt students have insisted that evaluations simply fall into a black hole.

In 1998, for example, then Student Government Board (SGB) President Alyson Wallach complained about the evaluations to the University Senate, "We want to know how, who and why. Who is looking at these [negative evaluations] and why are they not being taken seriously?"

Students also have complained that the evaluations aren't made available to them.

Jeff Alex, immediate past president of SGB, told the University Times it was the SGB position that Pitt should publish results of student evaluations to help students avoid poorly taught courses. He cited such problems as courses taught by non-native English speakers and courses not in the instructor's primary field.

But Carol Baker, director of the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching (OMET) which creates and processes the student evaluation forms, said that student evaluation of teaching performance is intended primarily as a tool for faculty to improve their teaching and their courses.

Not that she is oblivious to the role students play. "Many of the evaluation forms begin with a series of questions on the students' perception of what they contributed to the course," Baker pointed out. "For example, we might ask: 'How much effort did you put into the course?' as a way of making students think about their own performance before they are overly critical of the instructor's performance."

Faculty should pay attention to the students' judgments, she said. "We always stress that faculty should take the evaluations seriously. But evaluations are part of a process that includes peer review" and other departmental measures that, taken as a whole, put students' opinions of teaching effectiveness in context, Baker said.

–Peter Hart

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