Part 2 of ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching: Now what?

Key Insight:

In my column last month, I wrote about some of the ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching (SET), using Quinn’s competing values model. Among my top concerns are serious and documented validity issues with SET instruments, as well as how external stakeholders may use SET data as a big stick to weed out faculty who offer unpopular or controversial viewpoints, or who may be judged as ineffective based on this single (mostly invalid) instrument. In this column, I want to talk more about the “now what?” aspect of SETs.

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It’s not just Rate My Professor anymore! Ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching (SET)

Key Insight:

In this column, I want to examine the thorny and multi-dimensional ethical issues around student evaluations of teaching (SET). Using Quinn’s Competing Values framework to guide the conversation, I look at who uses SETs, who wants to use them, and ethical issues of context, competing concerns, and most saliently, validity problems. I also consider how we use SET data—whether formatively or summatively—and what process assurances we may owe our colleagues to improve their teaching practice. I finish with a brief conversation with Gustavus’ Associate Provost and Dean Darrin Good, who is heading up our SET modification effort, and as usual, some discussion questions.

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The Thought Leader Series: Robert A. Giacalone on being “Broken when Entering”

Key Insight: Bob Giacalone and Mark Promislo co-authored an article in the most recent Academy of Management Learning & Education, entitled, “Broken when Entering: The Stigmatization of Goodness and Business Ethics Education.” In this month’s column, I first react to their work, and then share some of my conversation with Bob about the article. I also fielded some reactions from Kabrina Krebel Chang of Boston University, who is directing the School of Management’s comprehensive new ethics education effort.

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In loco parentis, 2013-style and beyond

Key Insight: With a host of significant external forces pushing for change in academic institutions, the entire enterprise of teaching and learning has come under the microscope. Long-established and widespread teaching practices are increasingly considered obsolete in terms of adding clear value to students’ collegiate learning experience. In this column I explore some of those key forces, and the ethical ramifications of compelling changes we must make in teaching and learning. Specifically, I want to talk about what those changes mean for adding value to students’ college experience, and the way we must help our colleagues re-imagine and re-tool their teaching practice. In rethinking what “college” means, professors can remain compellingly relevant to students’ learning and college experience.

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Teaching vs. preaching: Conversational ethics in the classroom

Key Insight: Sharing personal opinions can enrich a conversation and advance a learning opportunity, but done incorrectly, can turn “teaching” into “preaching.” Not understanding when we are preaching can alienate students and detract from learning. In this blog, I talk about those differences, and discuss that line between sharing helpfully and sharing forcefully.

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Student recommendations redux– more conversation about this!

Key Insight: My last column on writing letters of recommendation (LOR) for students has generated more ideas, experiences and potential ethical issues! Here, I consider LOR requests from long-graduated students who contact you (sometimes out of the blue); the online recommendation phenomenon, such as with LinkedIn, that utilizes ‘blanket’ or generalized LORs; potential legal issues about what we say in LORs with respect to privacy laws, including what might change for us writers when students can examine our letters before we send them; and finally, an ethical issue raised by different cultural interpretations of what’s OK. Let’s go!

Student recommendations: to give, or not to give, that is the question!

Key Insight: Although writing letters of recommendation may be a common task, there is much more to these letters than meets the eye! This column explores ethical aspects of letters of recommendation and invites your comments about your experiences.

Help! My students want to friend me! Boundaries, relationships and the “yuck” factor in professor—student interactions

The semester ended a week ago, with the usual flurry: exams, grading crunch, and anxious seniors making sure they passed my section of their capstone strategy course. But this semester, the end of the semester also brought something new: Facebook ‘friending’ requests from my soon-to-be ex-students. They want to keep in touch, they say, and Facebook (FB) has become the default mechanism to do so. I got friend requests this semester for the first time because I QUITE belatedly have created my own FB page. At the time of Facebook’s IPO, the site had about 845 million users. I was probably number 844,999,000 to sign up, just opening my page in January of this year. Getting on Facebook has been a true event for me, having easily resisted the pull of FB since its inception about eight years ago. Do I need another thing to do, really??

What do we do when students despair? Considering pedagogical caring

I graded my strategy students’ first position/reaction paper late last week. As is usually the case on the first one, students do quite poorly, not making the conceptual leap from summarizing the contents of the article to which they had to respond, to making supported judgments about the article’s assertions. It’s a complex learning process, and as such I offer extensive handouts and scaffolding to lower their anxiety level. While the mean score is usually a low ‘C’ on the first paper, one student simply.. how should I say it.. bombed the assignment. “Bob” [not his real name, and he knows I am writing about this] did not follow any of the directions for either content or structure, and appeared to have no grasp of the assignment’s intent.

Peer pressure, or, I thought I was out of high school!

Hello everyone!

I am delighted with the responses to the Ethicist posts—both on the site and to me personally. Thanks for your energy and insights.

An Academy member sent me a very interesting scenario he has been facing that should resonate with many, not only in our field but with those following trends in academe as a whole. I have experienced a version of it myself just this semester. Consider this:

For the past 10 years, you’ve taught a required course you like. You’re effective at teaching this course, too: in the first several years, your course evaluations were very high and other student feedback indicated that they loved your course. However, although you manage the course in essentially the same way as you have since the beginning, and your teaching style has not changed dramatically for the worse, your course evaluations have become not so great. The reason behind this is that your students now evaluate your course’s workload as much too heavy, especially in relation to others who teach the course. When you first were teaching the course and got great evaluations, over 90% of students evaluated your course’s workload as “appropriate.” Over time, you now earn that evaluation metric from only 20% of students.

For students considering taking your course, the word on the street is that you are a very difficult instructor and your course carries an inappropriately rough workload. So, along with decreasing student evaluation numbers, you’re also facing fewer students in your section and resentful colleagues, all in the context of a dramatically increased institutional focus on student retention. You consider your assignment load completely appropriate for the course material.

As you puzzled over your change in evaluation fortunes, you reviewed syllabi from colleagues who also teach this course and found out that, based on similar student feedback, they had been gradually decreasing the workload in their courses. It appears that other sections of this course now require only a group presentation (without a corresponding written assignment) and one multiple choice exam at the end of the course. Indeed, you do have the heaviest workload now out of anyone teaching that course, although there is nothing out of the ordinary in your assignment mix: multiple writing assignments, group written project, and two essay/short answer exams.

What do you do?

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