As students prepare for finals next week, Salt Lake Community College and other schools are sending out requests to gather feedback about their courses.
Course evaluations are often the only way to gauge the success of a particular class or professor. In many cases, incentives such as contests or early viewing of posted grades are tied into the evaluation process. While these methods may encourage students to submit more course reviews, the value and accuracy of this feedback has been called into question.
According to NPR, sampling bias is a major problem with course evaluations. If a survey is optional, students most likely to respond will be “very happy or very unhappy” with the course, which can produce a mixed result with two outlying extremes.
To avoid this smaller sample size, schools may require all registered students to complete an evaluation for the course, in order to produce a more accurate average. But this theory is also susceptible to student bias.
In a study conducted by Bocconi University, students who are graded more easily tend to have a more favorable view of the instructor, while students who are challenged in a course will like have an opposing view.
This bias not only affects what information professors and administrators use to make changes to a course, but students who browse sites like Rate My Professor to decide on a preferred teacher may also be looking at faulty data.
To combat this bias, colleges could rely on peer evaluations. Gathering insight from reputable outside sources, including former faculty or faculty from other departments, could provide a more unbiased evaluation.
In an article published on Slate, professor Rebecca Schuman says a simple solution could combine peer evaluations with student evaluations. She also says that ending anonymous evaluations would generate more constructive criticism and prevent “unethical, rash behavior” that anonymous reviews create.
So until the evaluation method improves, it is up to the student to take the initiative to give an honest, unbiased review.