Student Evaluations of Teaching
Why SETs (Student Evaluations of Teaching) matter?
It's that time of semester again!
As the semester draws to a close, you will once again find that you are asked to complete evaluations of many of your lecturers, tutors and topics. This may all seem like a chore (or a bore), so we want to explain why these are important and what happens with them.
The overall purpose of student evaluation of teaching is to provide staff with valid and reliable information with which to make informed decisions about improving student learning outcomes. This has got to be a good thing.
In fact, in an effort to promote quality and demonstrate quality assurance, the University mandates that each lecturer collect SETs on at least one topic per year. So basically we have no choice but to collect them. Much more important is what happens with them.
What happens to the evaluations I fill in?
As you know, the evaluations are now conducted online. They are then sent for processing. A summary (mean, mode, frequency distribution graph) of the responses for each quantitative question is then sent confidentially to the lecturer, as well as to the Head of the School. The actual open-ended responses are sent to the lecturer. But everything is completely anonymous.
What happens then?
There are a number of options as to what may happen.
(a) The summarised topic results will be placed on the FLO topic page to give you feedback on the evaluation.
(b) If some problem has been identified, then either the Dean of School can make suggestions or the lecturer can initiate some action on their own. These can include:
1. The lecturer can respond to specific comments, for example, by changing aspects of the assessment or using a microphone or slowing down. Here it's important to remember that lecturers are unlikely to change the topic in response to one isolated comment, but rather if the same point is raised by a number of students. It's also important to remember that lecturers are not obliged to make changes. In this case, the SETs may lead them to explain their rationale (e.g., for the assessment scheme) more clearly next year. The lecturer may also add comment to the FLO page summary.
2. The lecturer may respond by getting further training in teaching methods. Staff Development at Flinders offers a number of specific courses for staff on how to improve their teaching.
3. Staff may ask other lecturers/tutors to watch them lecture (peer feedback) and discuss the issues with them.
(c) Certainly the SETs will be discussed in the annual performance review that staff have to undertake with the Dean of School.
(d) The lecturer is also required to provide the SETs in any application for promotion. Thus student evaluations may be quite important to a person's career. In this light, it's also important to offer feedback about what lecturers are doing well and what is useful in a topic.
(e) We need to also acknowledge that sometimes maybe nothing will happen, but on average it will.
What are the benefits for students?
So, even though you personally may not reap the benefits of any changes made to a topic in response to your SETs, the people behind you will be grateful. And similarly, you may reap the rewards from the feedback provided by students in the year before you. In addition the lecturer may be involved in another topic you later enrol in, so you could gain the benefit there.
When you get asked to do another SET, please take the time to offer thoughtful and constructive feedback to the person concerned. Most likely it will result in some change/consequence, even if you don't see them for yourself. So do it with good grace for the benefit of the lecturer and their future students. Remember your feedback is used to improve teaching and learning in the School of Psychology and in the University as a whole.