Editor’s Note: This is the last installment of our three-part series covering upcoming changes to faculty evaluations. We’ve interviewed three leading members of the Faculty Development & Evaluation Committee to research and condense important information for you. We hope this series has offered you transparent communication on what to expect from faculty evaluations in the future. Thank you for reading!

By Alexa K. Haverlah, TLED Content Marketing Intern

After 40 years of service at ACC’s Eastview Campus, Gale Spear, Professor of Childcare & Development, is retiring at the end of August 2021. Gale’s contributions as a faculty member and department chair include being one of the founders of the Teaching & Learning Academy (TLA) and the Department Chair Academy; she is also the Lead for the Student Course Evaluations Working Group.

The Student Course Evaluations Working Group is an interdisciplinary group of faculty members appointed in the shared governance process. The Working Group has been tasked with creating a set of fair and equitable questions that will generate meaningful information for faculty to use as formative reflection on their teaching.

“As one of the founders of the TLA, it is significant to me that faculty have an opportunity to really reflect on their teaching through student evaluations,” says Gale. “And right now, we don’t get enough information to figure out what tweaks we could make, what small change, what goal we should set, to make things better.”

“We want to develop a set of questions that will give faculty what they need to look at their teaching practices and decide what’s working and what they might want to rework for more success in their students’ learning,” says Gale.

The Student Voice, Unbiased

The need for change to the questions asked in student course evaluations comes out of extensive research conducted at different institutions across the country. Research shows that Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) reflect student bias against faculty’s age, gender, race, language, and other identities.

Still, “getting the student voice is really important,” says Gale. “Figuring out how to capture that student voice and use it are the million-dollar questions.”

Fair and equitable questions that eliminate student bias are needed to better capture the student voice.

For example, a standard question asked in many course evaluations, although not at ACC, is: My faculty member made me feel welcome. This question and others like it place the onus on faculty for each individual student’s feelings, and more often than not are based on whether the student likes the faculty member.

By changing the question to I felt welcome in this class, students report on their own feelings and not on the intent of the faculty member – something they couldn’t have known. Perhaps the faculty member was doing everything they could to make the student feel welcome, explains Gale. Of course, if the faculty member received multiple student responses indicating they did not feel welcome, then they would want to reflect on how to change this.

In addition to eliminating student bias, the Student Course Evaluations Working Group also intends for new questions to provide faculty with meaningful information on the effectiveness of their teaching. The student voice, along with feedback from supervisors and peers, and self-reflection, make up the 360 view of teaching that the new evaluation process hopes to offer faculty. 

“We really want to begin to think of our course evaluations by students as a way for faculty to learn about their teaching, as opposed to having it be an end-all,” says Gale. 

Score No More

As mentioned in Total Makeover: Faculty Evaluation Edition, Part II, future evaluations will usher in a culture shift away from the punitive and toward the formative. Similarly, the themes that emerge from student evaluations, rather than the overall score, will measure effective teaching in future student course evaluations.

As a Professor of Childcare & Development and one of the founders of the TLA, Gale knows a thing or two about best practices for effective teaching. “I hate to say this, but the similarities between the principles for teaching children are consistent with the best principles for teaching and learning throughout one’s whole life span,” she says. 

Early Childhood Education rests upon three principles: 1) Build trust and relationships, 2) Sequence or scaffold the material, and 3) Include all perspectives. If children completed student course evaluations, themes of trust, inclusion, and the pace of learning would let teachers know if they had met the best principles of effective early childhood education.

“I know that students recognize the faculty member who inspires them, who leaves them knowing more about the subject than before they entered the class, and I hope gives them a deeper appreciation of the subject,” says Gale.

The presence of all of these themes in student course evaluations, in addition to the student voice regarding fair treatment, will be revealing for faculty to assess the effectiveness of their teaching. 

Submit Your Questions

The Student Course Evaluations Working Group has been gathering ideas for questions to submit for review. During fall semester, a final recommendation of questions should be ready to go through the shared governance process allowing all faculty the chance to view and comment on the questions.

If you have ideas, please email Gale (gales@austincc.edu) after October 1st when she returns less than halftime to ACC to work with TLED on special projects and copy Shih-Ting Lee (slee12@austincc.edu), Manager of Faculty Evaluation. They are interested in the following:

  • How do you think student evaluations should be used in faculty evaluations?
  • What kinds of questions do you think are fair and equitable questions for faculty that will generate meaningful information?

And of course, we encourage you to comment your thoughts below! We’ll pass along your ideas.