A recent study found that professor evaluations are not an effective tool. Photo: Matthew Zucca.
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New study points to a need for improvement in the U of O’s process

By now, most of us know the drill when it comes to professor evaluations.

Near the end of the semester, our prof walks into class and hands out a form to each of us before leaving the class for 15-20 minutes while we fill it out.

But are these student evaluations on teaching, or SETs, really worth it?

A recent study published by researchers at Mount Royal University in Alberta has found no correlation between the evaluations and prof performance. That’s not surprising, considering how flawed the current SET system is.

For one thing, the SETs are way too broad. A math prof, for instance, will have a very different style of teaching than a political science prof. SETs should allow for that difference.

The evaluations are also lacking in a number of areas, since there’s no mention of assigned textbooks and how interactive the class is overall.

They also don’t allow students to disclose if the professor uses online resources effectively, whether the prof effectively makes students aware of resources like the Student Rights Centre, or even whether the prof properly follows university policies.

There also aren’t enough efforts made to make students aware of the consequences of the results, which means that it’s easy not to take the SET seriously.

As well, the tests are nowhere near transparent or accessible enough. The fact that students do have access to the results of the test is barely publicized. And if you can find the results, you’ll find a very bland presentation. Why not develop a comprehensive online resource that links professors to their SET results, something that would really come in handy when a student is choosing their classes? The results could also be provided in the form of a graph, which would be a very visual way of illustrating the results.

The university should be making a greater effort to ensure that students know and can easily understand their professors’ evaluations. After all, why should we need sites like ratemyprofessors.com when the university has what should be a much more reliable source of providing the same information?

It would be a good idea for institutions like the the University of Ottawa to explore these various possibilities, especially now that Infoweb is finally being cast aside.

The issues with professor evaluations aren’t even new. In the 1990s, improving SETs was an issue that came up regularly in student elections, and in 2005 the Political Science Students’ Association even tried to launch their own alternative version of the evaluation.

Clearly SETs are very important, and should not be scrapped—but they desperately need to be improved.