Hey students, do you recall those annoying evaluation things you have to do at the end of each course that take up a whole, what, five minutes of your time? Have you ever considered where those papers disappear to after that one students drops them off in the magical dean mailbox? Well get this, that whole five minutes of your time can largely affect your professor’s future.
Those evaluations end up in each and every professors’ official file, and stay there for the rest of their career. For part-time professors, these evaluations take a large part in determining if they can even get rehired for the same courses they normally teach. Over half of Laurier Brantford’s faculty of professors are currently part-time. For the full-time professors that are hired on a contract, these evaluations play a large role in determining if they should be hired on for tenure (a permanent full-time position).
Laurier Brantford’s Inter-faculty Associate Dean, Dr. Kathryn Carter voices that, “Those evaluations are really, really, really important and I think students just do it out of a sense of, ‘oh well, we have to do this.’”
Carter explains that if a professor is not doing their job properly, these evaluations are the only real tool the administrators have to not rehire someone again. When students come to Carter complaining about professors, all she can tell them is to fill out the evaluations honestly, and guess what? Very few do.
“I know from our hiring processes that students don’t generally use them in the way that they say they’re going to,” explains Carter. She has looked back on the evaluations of specific professors that she had gotten complaints about, and they are fine! There is nothing she can do about the complaints with no evidence to support it.
But on the other hand, Carter knows many exceptional part-time professors that may not be getting recognized for their hard work to the degree that they deserve.
Carter does admit that Laurier’s evaluations affect the part-time professors a great deal more than the full-time professors. Once a professor is at a tenure position, the evaluations almost do not affect them at all. If they get all sixes and above (the second highest ranking), they will get a congratulatory letter from the dean. If the tenured professor is consistently getting lower rankings, they will get a letter of suggestion from the dean to take advantage of Laurier’s workshops that help improve teaching abilities. But for the part-timers, their jobs rely on these evaluations to a certain extent. “There’s a whole structural inequity around part-time instructors that won’t be answered by fixing the evaluations. But that is the nature of that contract employment, and it stinks. But most of us have been there, right?” says Carter.
“Professors have a very deep commitment to providing quality education,” explains Associate Professor of Society, Culture and Environment/ History, Dr. Robert Kristofferson. “So they do look personally to those teaching evaluations to gain an understanding of how their teaching is going, and therefore what adjustments they might need to make to improve their teaching.”
But many have brought up the issue that the current evaluations are not structured well enough for the professors to be able to know what to improve on. Kristofferson says that it has been recognized by not just the faculty, but the entire university that there are better ways of doing the evaluations. Carter admits, “I think a lot of people find them kind of a clumsy instrument for measuring what happens in the classroom.” She believes the students do not have the opportunity to say what they need to on the current evaluations.
Some professors even create their own evaluations in order to gain a better understanding of how they are doing. This requires approval and does not stay in their permanent file like the current evaluations do. It is just for personal purposes, but goes to show that the current evaluations must be lacking if that option is necessary.
Dr. Antony Christensen, an assistant professor in criminology has been working with a committee to implement a new evaluation form that will be used online instead of in classrooms. Christensen explains that he does not hate the current evaluation, and admits that may be because he receives all rankings of six and above, but he does believe it could be better. “It’s so vague, and too broad that it is difficult to know what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong,” explains Christensen.
“The post-secondary classroom has changed so significantly that there’s probably a real push to think of new ways to evaluate what happens under that big umbrella of learning,” says Carter. She explains that the process of changing the current evaluations will be very long as it will require input from so many different areas.
The revised evaluation has been approved for piloting, and is currently being reviewed through student and faculty focus groups on both the Waterloo and Brantford campus. The committee has implemented around 10-15 student focus groups between the two campuses, some of which have had no turns outs. The revised evaluation is hoped to be put into place by the wintertime of 2015. But many wonder if the revised evaluation will make much of a difference if students still do not take it seriously.
“If there’s one message we can get out, it would be great if students understood that these really are important evaluations,” says Carter.