In general, I have mixed feelings about surveys. I suppose it depends on what you’re passionate about. For instance, I will gladly fill out a survey about, say, an Augustana dance, but will never participate in any survey conducted over the phone.
Nevertheless, I will be the first one to step forward and say that surveys are necessary, vital, crucial and any other adjective that imprints just how important some surveys really are. As I’m sure you are aware, I’ve got a particular survey in mind: teacher evaluations.
For those of you who slept in that day, doodled a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the back of your notebook or simply Christmas-treed all of the bubbles or, for some other perfectly logical reason, are unaware, Augustana regularly evaluates its teachers. For those of you who think you missed evaluation day, don’t panic. It might be because your teacher didn’t have one.
Does that sound conflicting? Yes, Augustana regularly evaluates its teachers (or at least, the faculty handbook says so). Nevertheless, you may have noticed that many of your class experiences are going unevaluated. This is because, according to the faculty handbook, “teaching effectiveness may be assessed using the following procedures or activities: self-evaluation; evaluation by the Department Chair; peer evaluation; student ratings of instruction; further course work or continuing education in one’s field; and participation in seminars and/or workshops on teaching skills.”
Um, excuse me. Can we all opt for self-evaluation? Can that be a thing? I highly suspect not, because administrators will – and rightfully so – argue that self-evaluation takes away an incentive for improvement in the classroom. This begs the painfully obvious question: why, then, do our professors get to do so? And wouldn’t it all be so much easier if, instead of receiving any feedback on our efforts, we could just promise that we’re “continuing education” in our fields?
I don’t say these things because I’m a bitter critic of the system. I haven’t been denied so many evaluations that I’m going on an evaluative rampage-binge-overload to reach homeostasis once more. A teacher has not ruined my life and gotten away scot-free, leaving me to seethe in a blind rage (yet).
Instead, I’m saying these things because I am a firm believer in the positive power of feedback (whether the feedback is positive or not). And it’s also important to remember that what students say about one class a professor teaches may be very different than what students will say about a different course by the same professor. These feedback forms – the ones with actual, open-ended questions – allow professors to transform their curriculum in order to make it more accessible to the students.
For instance, comments from the visual learner may inform professors that their classes do not have enough visual components. Honest responses from students about the poor informational quality of certain texts may prompt the professor to look for a more helpful, comprehensible one. And if 80 of 100 students tell the professor his or her test questions are confusing, they just might be confusing.
Open-ended evaluations need to become a standard semesterly routine for every class of every professor (tenured, grant-instated or not).
Give us students an even greater opportunity to craft our own education and to provide our teachers with the same kind of feedback they give us: truthful, insightful and transformative. That is one survey I would be happy to take.
Tyrannosaurus Rexes notwithstanding.
Sarah Kocher is a sophomore English and journalism major from Lincoln, Neb. She enjoys Mike ‘n Ikes and sock puppets.