Monday, March 7, 2022

What we know about student evaluations is reassuring

Katharine Gelber
University of Queensland
In "What we now know about student evaluations is much more depressing than you thought", Katharine Gelber (University of Queensland), reports that research confirms a gender bias in Students Evaluations of Teaching (SETs). Their research was of University of Queensland student surveys over three years from 2015 (Gelber, Brennan,  Duriesmith, & Fenton, 2022). The good news is that the numeric scores did not show gender bias, but the text comments did. Male and female identifying students evaluated teachers in some stereotypical gendered ways. This means that SETs may be rewarding female and male staff for behaviours that conform to gender stereotypes. It also may mean that female and male staff are rewarded for behaviours that have differentiated impacts on the amount of time and energy they have available for other activities, including of course research. 

The author's conclusion is that "These results on student evaluations are only depressing if you thought they were an objective measure of teaching quality". But who in any service delivery industry would think a consumer survey is an objective measure? Like any consumer survey, the results will reflect the biases of those surveyed. That the quantitative results are consistent is a positive result, and should be enough to use the surveys as a early warning indicator of a problem with a course or teachers.

If the numbers for one course or teacher is very low, then there is a reason to check why. But sifting through what students write on surveys to decide if one teacher is slightly better than another is nuts. Also such a survey should have nothing to do with the amount of time a teacher spends teaching. They should spend the time needed to meet learning outcomes for students, which have nothing to do with a popularity poll. 


  1. Katharine Gelber, Katie Brennan, David Duriesmith & Ellyse Fenton (2022) Gendered mundanities: gender bias in student evaluations of teaching in political science, Australian Journal of Political Science, DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2022.2043241

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