Student Evaluation of Teaching

For you non-academics unfamiliar with life at the university, yesterday was the day I got my evaluations. Yes, it’s true, the students get to turn everything around and grade the faculty on their performance. I can’t actually fail — tenure, you know — but these things do matter when it’s time to determine raises and that sort of thing (which will be roughly in mid-March). The department gets a tiny pot of money that the chair will dole out to the good little boys and girls, and she will use student evals as part of the determination, which also includes research and service.

So yesterday I cracked the virtual envelope to get the results, and they were fine. On a scale of 0 to 6, I got all 5s and 6s, which might translate into a raise of a few tens of dollars in a few months. It probably isn’t worth it, because I have to bust my ass for a year to get biology across to the students.

What’s more interesting is the comments students write, which I take far more seriously than numbers punched into a Likert scale, and are far more likely to get me to change things in the course. I got a few criticisms that made me happy.

Students said, “wasted too much time on creationism” and “I want to learn more biology, not creationism.” For context, I give ONE(1) lecture out of 30 that addresses religious objections to evolutionary theory. One. And this audience of smart millennials is just completely over it. That makes me so happy.

OK, have it your way. I’m cutting that lecture out of next year’s curriculum, and replacing it with more straight-up unvarnished biology, with no regrets. I hope this class is representative of their generation, because it’s about time we could ignore that nonsense.


  1. evodevo says

    Yeah – I taught Bio at a local community college…LOTS of fundies (and the occasional JW) in the classes. I refused to discuss creationism at all…I told them if they wanted to discuss religion, they could see me after class, but while class was in session they were expected to learn BIOLOGY and their exam answers better reflect that. Never had a problem.

  2. Sphinx of Black Quartz says

    I know it’s traditional for people around my age to start grousing about the young, but frankly I think kids these days are smarter, more worldly, and more compassionate than I was, and probably most of my generation was. The kids are alright.

  3. StevoR says

    @ ^ Yes. Agreed. This old song

    a href=”″>here – Children of the Revolution springs tomind here.

  4. StevoR says

    IOh FFS. Mea culpa take II :

    Children of the Revolution Of course we haven’t actually yet had that much-needed revolution yet despite the gravest provocations and it may not be the answer and may not go as we hope but stilll.. Hopefully?

  5. Rich Woods says

    Many, many, many years ago at college, my class was required to evaluate our teaching staff. One of the concluding questions was “What qualities make for a good lecturer?”, to which several of us responded, “Has a beard and smokes a pipe.” Everyone knew who the outstanding teacher was on the course, even amongst a solid set of lecturers, but we didn’t want any flowery compliments going to his head.

  6. StevoR says

    FWIW PZ Myers, you have taught me a lot over the years and made me a much better human being because of it.

    By this blog.

    Thankyou. Respect.

  7. says

    Got my evals yesterday too. Super informative comments, which I really appreciate and encourage the students to add. Definitely helps me develop my courses going forwards.

  8. astringer says

    Robert79 @ 10 et al.
    I’m of the school that the prevalence of ‘how did we do’ feedback requests that now follow every internet purchase, hotel stay and lecture module is driven by the wish of the company/hotel/college to diffuse the disgruntled customer. Once they have (internally and therefore safely) vented ire and disappointment to the supplier, they are less likely to mouth-off elsewhere. Why else would such valueless data be collected.

  9. says

    @9 StevoR: I agree wholeheartedly

    These, my words are honest, not said to pander to PZ or anyone else. I, too, have learned so much on a number of topics here. PZ and most of the commenters provoke substantive thought and discussion. Thank you Prof. Myers and the commenters.

  10. says

    @13 astringer, etc.
    Feedback requests for commercial companies almost always are handled by 3rd parties. They are allowed to have/collect lots of personal info about you and profit from it. They are often just a popularity contest and are selectively evaluated and used as positive public relations. I urge people to direct any feedback (positive or negative) directly to the entity being reviewed.

  11. rockwhisperer says

    You can’t fool me, PZ, I had instructors like you at the wonderful state university where I got my master’s in geology. It is primarily a teaching university (as opposed to a research university, where I got my BS), and with just a couple of exceptions, the department faculty were consummate teachers, worked hard to keep the material they taught yearly freshened up, went out of their way for students, and appreciated constructive criticism.

    It is teachers like you that make higher ed work for the vast majority of us ordinary students.

  12. says

    Relax and take your rest- your work here is done.

    Ha, who am I kidding. I’ve been following the adventures of creationists since I came across the publications of the Moody Bible Institute in the 1960’s, and absolutely nothing has ever changed their irrational views, except that vast amounts of money squandered on them have led to the fabrication of ever more elaborate ways to sugar coat their lies. I remember James Randi talking about the difficulty that scientists, who are dedicated to rationality, face when confronted with people who are deliberately lying about everything. It’s a problem which, as you well know, seems to be insoluble, so I am afraid the world is not done needing you.

  13. nomdeplume says

    A whole lesson on creationism? Is that because of the niumber of fundies in every class, or because they are exposed to so much creationist nonsense in the outside world? I can see an argument for a lesson dealing with this rubbish, but it’s like a 3% reduction in real biology – which I guess is happening in the outside world too.

  14. vereverum says

    So you have a chair decide who gets raises.
    How very Monty Pythonish of you.

  15. bcw bcw says

    @20. Well, we had a chair decide a Presidential primary race, raises seems trivial in comparison…

    On the creationist lecture thing, do you have a linking of how each student did compared to how they rated you?
    That would be useful in understanding their views of your class. You do want to be sure they weren’t panning your takedown of creationism because they disagree with you. That’s probably just paranoia on my part – anyone who makes it through your class must be unencumbered by creationism. I was wondering if knowing the creationism storylines would help them defend evolution to their friends and relatives but likely creationist relatives are immovable anyway.

  16. bcw bcw says

    @10. I’m less interested whether free cookies affects evaluations than the unitard PZ was talking about a few posts ago.

  17. rietpluim says

    The battle is won. Creationism is vanished into the irrelevance where it always belonged.

  18. says

    Urgh, teacher evaluations…
    I’m completely in favour of students being able to have a say, bring grievances, etc, but teacher evaluations that then determine pay… No thanks. We all know that those evaluations are skewed towards white men. I remember one study where the class was a series of online lectures and the exact same lecture was either given by a white guy, or an Asian woman, and I don’t think you’ll surprised to hear that the Asian woman got devastating feedback while the white guy got praise…
    In other news, our idiot for an education minister thought that one way to address the many problems in our educational system was to “pay teachers according to their work output/success” which isn’t just plain insulting, as it is based on the assumption that currently most teachers don’t do their job right and need a carrot and a stick, but it also brings up a ton of issues. For example, they proposed that teachers who get many students with special needs to the first school leaving cert after grade 9 should get a bonus. Here’s the thing: if we get a kid with a learning disability in year 5, they become “mine”. In order for them to graduate, their special needs accommodation needs to and in the middle of year 8 . So for three and a half years, I’ll work my ass off to hopefully get them up to date, give them the tools and confidence to get there, but then, after year 8, we basically say goodbye. According to the proposal, the teacher who has them in German or Maths in year 9, who may never have met them before, would teach them for their final year. Who gets the bonus now?

  19. tbp1 says

    IMHO student evaluations are only useful when there is at least a 90% participation rate. My school does not require the students to do evaluations, so response rates are tiny, and are mostly from students who either are very happy with you, or not happy at all, hardly representative.

    Back when students were required to participate, I occasionally got some value from the comments, but being tenured for a couple of decades now and close to retirement I just stopped paying attention when student participation became optional. I realize not everyone has that luxury.