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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Frame your own intentions for your teaching and then document how you are achieving them (or, if student evals suck, how do we know we're doing a good job teaching?)

Tl;dr: Get the student evals gremlin off your back with my framework for tracking how your teaching meets your goals and your students' goals, plus advice on how to reframe your teaching goals for tenure, review, and promotion.

A white measuring tape sits on a white background
Whose metrics are we being measured by? | credit: newsong on Pixabay

I don't bake cookies.

And I teach online.

So, I can't bring cookies to class to ensure that my student evals are nice and high.

(There's so much discussion of the pros and cons of student evals [1], I'm not going to re-litigate that here. I will say, though, that we perpetuate injustice by using unjust metrics. And at the same time, accountability, assessment, and feedback are top values of mine with regard to making good teaching better and thereby making higher ed more just for learners and instructors. So, I support an equitable, justice-oriented combination of student feedback, peer observation, expert coaching, and administrative accountability mechanisms.)

But, it's the start of the semester. Why am I focusing on end-of-semester evals now?!

Because: if we wait until the end of the semester, it's too late for alternative assessment mechanisms. [2]

Let me describe what usually happens. Then, I'll map out what you can do instead.

I had a conversation last fall with a colleague who may not re-teach a new course they spent a lot of time building, depending solely on whether the student evals are good or not. It was nearly the end of the semester, and as we talked, my colleague sounded discouraged. That puzzled me, because I'd heard good things about the course from other faculty who'd been guests in it. The course met a real need and did so in a contemporary way as far as I could tell from numerous conversations I'd had with this colleague. [3]

The colleague went on to explain that they just weren't sure if their all their time and effort was recognized and appreciated by the students. My impression was that this colleague also wasn't trusting themself to gauge the students' learning through the work they had done over the semester.

This is a crummy situation for anyone to be in.

And, it's preventable, as long as we stop looking to student evals as the metric for gauging the efficacy of a course or instructor. Below, I'll describe what you can do now, at the start of the semester, so you're not feeling cornered come May. After that, I'll share my end-of-term, better than nothing strategy if your course is almost over.

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