We Tip Our Hats to Thoughtful Rhetoric on Course & Teacher Evaluations.

Invoke Higher Education’s Vice President, Sales, Brian R. Hopewell, recently provided a thoughtful response to a Top Hat blog regarding student/course evaluations posted by Ms. Tiffany Ford.  Check out the blog, and then enjoy Mr. Hopewell’s comment below:

Truth-in-advertising flag: I work for a company that develops course evaluation software for higher education. That said, let me applaud Ms. Ford for pointing out some of the obvious pitfalls that students, instructors, and administrators deal with when the time comes to design, distribute, and interpret student ratings of instruction surveys. None of these tasks are as easy as they look. The education press is seasonally flooded with rather sensational articles of the sort Slate’s Sarah Schuman contributed. The central argument Ms. Schuman’s and Ms. Ford’s articles is that the thousands of instructors, deans, chairs, and assessment professionals in higher education haven’t “solved” the problem of how to intelligently relate student ratings to teacher performance. Sorry, not true. There are indeed both scholarly and popular studies that document problems of ratings bias flawed procedure, but one would expect that in a realm as vast and complex as American higher education. Ms. Ford claims that it’s “frustratingly hard” to find scholarly documentation for appropriate, even helpful uses of student ratings. One wonders how hard Ms. Ford, Ms. Schuman, and other carking commentators actually looked for contrary evidence. It’s not especially difficult to find. The published work of the scholarly giants in this field, (Profs. Herbert Marsh, Michael Scriven) and more recent analysts (Profs. Nira Hativa, Michael Theall, Ronald Berk) is perhaps two clicks away from any desktop. Ms. Ford would have found in these pages a great quantity of balanced, thoughtful research that spells out rather clearly how an institution can best use student ratings data in the quest to understand what constitutes good teaching and learning. Ms. Ford might have profitably read the excellent study that Stanford University produced after revising its own course evaluation instrument and process. (It’s here; The use of student ratings is a fact-of-life in higher education. Institutions can only choose to do them well or badly. The real news is that so many institutions choose to do them well.