Invisible Adjunct returns to the topic of student evalutions of university facultyhere and here. The latest research seems to indicate that the evals are reliable (that is, producing consistent ratings) and “somewhat valid” (that is, corresponding somewhat to other measures of effectiveness) but generally quite flawed because they are influenced by grading leniency, ethnicity, political ideology, physical attractiveness, and other factors presumably outside the scope of the survey. Unfortunately, the studies also show that faculty evaluations of their peers are no better.

The main problem, of course, continues to be that there is no really clear idea of what constitutes “effective teaching” at the higher levels. It’s comparatively easy to evaluate, say, grade school teachers who teach a very discrete subject (Can the kids spell the words on the reading list? Memorized the multiplication tables?). College faculty, by virtue of their advanced degree have demonstrated subject matter competency before getting hired. They can demonstrate research skills by getting published in peer reviewed journals. But there is generally no one at a university competent to judge the professor’s skill in teaching an upper division or graduate-level course in his specialty. Aside from the largest departments, there is ONE medieval historian, ONE Latin Americanist, and so on.

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.