Friday, September 05, 2014

Evaluation Language?

One of the projects I'm responsible for this year is revising our teaching evaluations and the evaluation process, so that they give us better information for making personnel decisions and such. 

If you've been around teaching for a while, you know these evaluations are historically fraught with problems.  We know that.  We've been working to figure out how we can make better evaluations and use them better, and I think we've made progress.

These are departmental things, sort of, though they also have to pass review up the line, so we have to be thoughtful in putting in what we really want, and also convince those up the line that what we want should be there.  I think we're reasonable, and up the line is reasonable, so we need to do a good job and it will be fine.

What I'd like to ask you folks:  have you found a good way to get at issues of inclusion or inclusivity in teaching evals?

Part of the problem is the language of "inclusion" or "inclusivity" is very contextual; it may be what faculty and administrators use, but I'm not sure that students will understand what we mean.

What we're after is a way of caring about and demonstrating that we care about instructors treating students decently, especially around issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation.

We don't want instructors making exclusionary racist comments, for example.

But more important, we want to recognize the efforts some instructors make to get students to grapple with difficult issues of racism, say, and to think critically about their beliefs and actions.

How do we encourage and recognize those efforts, and also recognize that those challenges aren't going to make every student feel comfortable, and that, in fact, sometimes discomfort is useful?  But we want to cause discomfort intellectually to those who need to be challenged, and not personally, especially for those who are challenged all too often.

We want to make what's been historically difficult, especially for people without tenure who challenge students to think hard about race, say, and thus make some students usefully uncomfortable, into something we can encourage and positively recognize.

Do your teaching evals do this?  And if they do, can you share some, please?


  1. Our form has what I think is a pretty common line (at least I think I've seen it on versions at other institutions, though at this point I might just be remembering different versions of my current institution's form): "teacher shows respect for students." It's pretty general, but I think it gets at most of the issues you mention above, without getting too specific (which might steer the whole enterprise into some of the potholes you mention above).

  2. Ours has a phrase similar to what CC describes. It's not perfect, but it's OK. You might also ask some version of "was it safe to disagree", but that's not the exact phrasing. (Our form has positive statements ("to was treated with respect in this class") and a 7 point likert scale with agree-disagree.

  3. My worry with some of those examples above is that sometimes it puts teachers in a double-bind when it comes to dealing with instances of racism, sexism, etc. I have, in the past, had to shut down tall white guy students who were saying (usually) racist things in class (since at least they know not to be overtly sexist when the teacher is female), and I am very sure that they would give me low marks on showing respect for students or it being a safe place to disagree. (In fact, I had one complain to our white male chair, who laughed him off, but the circumstances wouldn't have shown up in the evaluation.) I've also had to deal with people who thought economics would agree 100% with their tea party beliefs, but I've been pretty good at dealing with those folks via questioning their assumptions etc., but not everybody is!

  4. (I've been having trouble getting Blogger to take my comments with my Wordpress authentication, so here goes a try.)

    Does your institution, or your department, have any existing language in its mission statement or similar, addressing this issue? I ask because if I were doing this in the SA context, I would try to pin the language to our fairly recently overhauled diversity statement. It's fairly big in its sweep, but it connects with the in-classroom mission through the words inclusion and respect. "Challenge with respect" and "inclusive classroom" would definitely go down on my scratch pad. Foster the intellectual growth of students by respectfully challenging their beliefs? Is this something that you have agreed you want? Because I recognize this as a good thing, as do most of my colleagues, but I know we don't have any language anywhere that establishes this as a shared goal. Maybe we should!

  5. Thanks folks. The difficulty is that we really want to get at how we should challenge students, and sometimes make them uncomfortable. We want to recognize instructors who do that in positive ways, but also be aware of problems of instructors who do racist stuff, or sexist stuff, or homophobic stuff. We know it happens because we hear rumors, but teasing those two out is hard.

    Meansomething, I owe you a very big coffee next time we get together, because you sent me to look for mission statements, and I think I found language that I can use! YAY!

    These times are when I really love blogging and the community of people who discuss stuff!

  6. ps. I also have real difficulties these days commenting on blogs. I've taken to writing my comment, copying it with ctrl c, and then usually have to paste it in after things go blank once I've logged in at Bardiac.

  7. I like some of the general treats students with respect ideas and really the idea of getting more specific makes me uncomfortable. Is this only for your department or is this for university wide evaluations? I teach in the physical sciences and really don't like the idea of being evaluated in an area like this that really shouldn't come up in my basic science classes.

  8. This is for my department only, and we do teach texts where sex, gender, race, and so forth matter a lot.