Today is the last day that students can submit their Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) surveys. The feedback provided in these surveys allows students to voice their opinions about their courses and provide feedback to both the university and the instructors so that the teaching performance may improve. Over the past few years, the surveys receive about a 50 percent response rate each semester, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (OIRE). That turnout should be improved. With how significant the surveys are for courses and instructors, it is evident that the system should be reworked.
SET surveys are used to improve courses through teaching performance and substance and as a form of evaluation for instructors. These reviews are meant to help instructors recognize how they can improve their teaching. This helps professors better do their jobs and students who will take the same class in the future. The surveys also significantly impact the careers of instructors, teaching assistants in particular. If students were better informed of the significance of these surveys, the response rate would likely increase. For that reason, the university must be transparent about the uses of these surveys and communicate these clearly to the students.
The surveys have changed in the past to address previous issues. It is necessary that they continue to search for the best methods of evaluation. This semester is the first requiring only three responses to generate a report of the student’s surveys; previously it required five. This change was much needed because it makes it more likely professors teaching smaller classes will be able to view a report. These surveys also come at the most inopportune time. Being due before finals start means that students are asked to sacrifice studying time to complete these optional evaluations. The deadline should be moved until after finals in order to give students proper time to complete the surveys. The evaluation system previously was paper based, but as of spring 2013, the system moved online. This means that professors do not always reserve class time to complete them, leading students to believe they are not as important, and a lower response rate results. In order to combat this, the university should consider moving back to paper or making the surveys mandatory.
SET surveys both help instructors improve their performance and impact their careers. For these reasons, the university has a responsibility to try to improve its response rate and its method of evaluation. As a start, the university must be transparent about the uses of these surveys and communicate it clearly with the students. The OIRE should also look into possible changes that would increase the response rate or encourage students to take the surveys more seriously.