Friday, March 12, 2010
Furlong from Fursville did the right thing.
Student evaluations are a joke. I've been a prof for 20 years and can admit that I've not gleaned even one good bit of advice from a student evaluation. On the other hand, I've learned tons of stuff from students in unprovoked and open discussion of the class, my assignments, the workload, and so on.
Since I have tenure - and Furlong does not - this advice might or might not help.
About ten years ago I got a standard pack of evaluations to pass out in my class. I took them, put them back in an interoffice envelope and sent them to the Dean. I wrote on a sheet of paper. "If you truly want to know what my students think of the class, come and ask them yourself." And then I wrote the dates and times of my last class days.
I was shocked and awfully encouraged when the Dean herself arrived at my classroom door at the appointed hour. She had a clipboard and blank sheets of paper. I think she was trying to surprise me, and I didn't fake it. We laughed a moment and I said, "Let me clear out. You can have at it." "Tell this person anything she wants to know," I said to the class, and I scampered down the hallway to steal some coffee from the Philosophy department.
40 minutes later the Dean came out, waved me over. "Come and see me after finals, okay?" she said.
And that's how it's been. The Dean no longer does it, but her replacement asks me for a list of 5 faculty members I trust to give the job to, and it goes down on the last day of class each term. And for the past 3-4 years, I've pulled the same duty for some of my colleagues who've heard of my unique situation.
Now, I don't know if this system is workable at larger schools. I'd bet there are lots of administrators whose asses are puckering right now thinking about it. But each year I get real feedback, gathered by someone I trust, about my classes. It's not canned; it's not dumb. Students seem honest. I get good and bad feedback, but it's all tremendously more thoughtful than the bullshit those forms generate.
Why don't we do more things that make sense? Why don't we - like Furlong - stand up as a group?