8 Chapter 8: Policies on and Decision Making for Teaching

A. Session Introduction

In this week, we examine the policies and practices that will most immediately affect you as an instructor (if that is, indeed, your role; if not, the topic is still relevant given the subject area). There are many topics that could be included within a topic such as this; examples include Open Educational Resources (OER), student evaluations of courses and teaching, and policies about student grading. We will focus specifically on the controversy of course evaluations, which has drawn considerable attention and scrutiny in academic circles lately.


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Inevitably, as an instructor, you will have some form of student evaluation. Likewise, you will most likely be evaluating students yourself. Rather than being an unproblematic judgement of teaching and learning, both processes are fraught with tricky social dynamics. As an instructor, it is important to understand what these are as you navigate the dynamics of instruction in the postsecondary system.

What might these problems be? Let us start with evaluation of your own teaching, or Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) scores. There have been a number of recent studies that have highlighted how biased these ratings can be. For example, there is a consistent gender gap in ratings of professors, with male instructors receiving higher scores than female instructors. Anya Kamenetz, writing for NPR, details some of the issues in her article titled Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings. Additional support for the problematic nature of SETs can be found in Professor Philip Stark’s blog, which details the findings of his academic research studies. Other studies have shown that one’s attractiveness impacts their teaching score (e.g., Riniolo, Johnson, Sherman, & Misso, 2006). Despite these problems, SET scores figure prominently in faculty members’ tenure and promotion applications and decisions. However, a recent arbitration ruling at Ryerson University mean changes may be coming at other universities as well.

Likewise, evaluation of your own students’ work can be problematic and is worth exploring. If you are interested in reading about issues with student evaluations or the recent increase in Open Educational Resources (OER), see the bonus forums at the end of this session.

B. Learning Outcomes

At the end of this session, you should be able to:

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  • Understand the problematic nature of teaching evaluations, especially with respect to gender and other minority statuses
  • Consider potential changes to SETs
  • Reflect on the potentially problematic nature of evaluating students’ learning (optional)
  • Engage with the scholarship of Open Education Resources and identify opportunities for their adoption (optional)

C. Session Resources

Kamenetz, A. (2016, January 25). Why female professors get lower ratings [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/01/25/463846130/why-women-professorsget-lower-ratings

Stark, P. (2013, October 4). Do student evaluations measure teaching effectiveness? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.berkeley.edu/2013/10/14/do-student-evaluations-measure-teaching-effectiveness/

Read the ABSTRACT only : Riniolo, T. C., Johnson, K. C, Sherman, T. R., & Misso, J. A. (2006) Hot or not: Do professors perceived as physically attractive receive higher student evaluations? The Journal of General Psychology, 133(1), 19-35. https://doi.org/10.3200/GENP.133.1.19-35

Byerly, A. (2012, August 6). Pass-fail option for professors. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/08/06/essay-urging-new-option-faculty-course-evaluations

Farr, M. (2018, August 8). Arbitration decision on student evaluations of teaching applauded by faculty. University Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/arbitration-decision-on-student-evaluations-of-teaching-applauded-by-faculty/

D. Learning Activities

Address the following questions:

  • As a student, had you previously given any thought to the course evaluations (SETs) that you have been asked to complete?
  • In your professional practice, what have you been asked to provide in order to constitute evidence of successful teaching?
  • Using the readings for support, what do you feel is [are] the most concerning issue[s] with SETs?
  • What systemic steps have institutions implemented to address the bias in teaching evaluations?