Students Uncertain of Impact of Course Evaluations
Dan Neckar
dneck184@uwsp.edu
After each semester winds down at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and all of the lectures are over, students participate in a routine many of them admit they know little about.
 
Professors are assessed by students with a numerical, multiple choice evaluation. Students are responsible for judging their professor’s helpfulness, enthusiasm for the subject, course workload and overall effectiveness.

According to Chapter 4B, Section 3 of the University Handbook, evaluation of faculty is the responsibility of the individual department.  The handbook states that the departments may use results of the evaluations when evaluating colleagues for promotion, retention and tenure, but also states that personnel decisions cannot be made based solely on the evaluations.
Evaluations give students a formal opportunity to provide feedback, but they often don’t understand how this data is used and what kind of impact it has on their university.
“You want the professor, especially if they’re great, to have a good evaluation. But at the same time, sometimes the professors need a warning for the way they’re teaching their classes if the evals are all bad,” said UWSP Junior Lindsey Miller.
Miller and other students say that they don’t feel certain about how the evaluations are handled.  She believes that the weight of the evaluations is higher for professors who are new to the university.

“I would hope that they are used for feedback and also for the department to watch professors who are still new, but I’ve honestly never known,” Miller said.
Senior Dana Scheffen said that even though she’s always completed the evaluations honestly, she finds it hard to believe that a good or bad review has much impact overall.
“Honestly, I don’t know if anything really happens from the reviews because I’ve written not-so-positive reviews before and I’m not sure if anything has ever happened because of it,” Scheffen said.
Communication Professor Rhonda Sprague said she uses the feedback to determine whether or not her methods are working.  She said students should know that the evaluations are not related to grades.
 I have colleagues who get excellent evaluations and give very high grades. I have colleagues who give high grades and whose evaluations are so-so. I have colleagues who give so-so grades and get excellent evaluations. There doesn’t seem to be much consistency,” Sprague said.
 
After 27 years at UWSP, Communication Professor Richard Dubiel says that the evaluation system’s influence has grown to be more powerful than it needs to be.
 
“They originally were to be simply a help for the instructor. If you had bad evaluations you would take a look at that and improve,” Dubiel said.
 
Apart from believing that the evaluations are being used for more than they were originally intended for, Dubiel says that he thinks some professors are at the mercy of the numbers.
 
“It gives way too much power, not so much to the students, but to one way of judging the teacher. Once a teacher finds a way to get good evaluations it makes them reluctant to change that class because they want to keep those good numbers,” Dubiel said.
 
Although Dubiel says he doesn’t need the evaluations to judge whether or not a class is going well, he says that he is able to get the best feedback by offering his own supplemental evaluations--in a free-written, non-numerical format before the end of the semester.
 
“This doesn’t mean that I’m going to turn my class around completely,” Dubiel said. “But these are things that I sometimes forget, and it’s a real wakeup call.”

Students seem to agree that writing their thoughts out and wording it themselves rather than choosing multiple choice answers is the best way to send a message to their professors.
“I feel that the writing-in spot is probably the more important part of those evals, so if no one writes anything, I don’t think the professor is getting a good evaluation of their performance,” said Junior Zack Knapton.
Both Dubiel and Scheffen suggested that professor-supplied evaluations that are collected before the semester’s end are the best approach for better feedback.
If you’re going to get anything out of the class, then the teacher should be knowing what they’re doing wrong during the class and not after it, because by then you’ve already paid for the course,” Scheffen said.
 
Regardless of how effective the evaluations are at gauging professors, Dubiel says that their influence is undeniable.
 
“I don’t think that students know how they’re regarded. They really do impact.  Some people say we shouldn’t tell students how powerful they are and that they could really go in and do some damage with them,” Dubiel said.
More information about the evaluations is available at the Student Government Association web site at http://stuorgs.uwsp.edu/sga/pages/home.aspx.