While I am not as well versed with much of the legal terminology and processes that would allow a more in depth discussion of the legalities around the professors complaint, I was interested in exploring some of the student affairs and assessment issues that arise from this lawsuit and the discussion in the article.
In particular, the line that stood out in the article for me was:
“The practice of anonymous student evaluations has, as we all know, been commercialized and put on steroids …”
While the article goes on to discuss the merits of the rating scale of a particular website, I took the comment to a broader degree and started thinking about the practice of collecting anonymous evaluations from students around anything from instructor performance to program effectiveness.
Is an anonymous evaluation a better evaluation? What information is gained when the student is allowed to remain anonymous? What information is lost?
Having been on both sides of the survey (collecting/analysing data and filling in numerous surveys), the practice of anonymous evaluation is frustrating and troubling. I often think of conversations I have with new professionals and graduate students around their use of social media. If you are so concerned about hiding your Twitter feed or what you share/post/tweet, I become more concerned about the content of your message. Would the same apply here? Why are students more at ease providing feedback anonymously? Are they afraid of hurting someone’s feelings? Are they fearful of what someone might say or do in the face of their unkind assessment of their teaching or program? Have we created a culture where we long to be connected yet still cling tightly to our privacy? What parts of ourselves must we hide when we are asked to give truthful, authentic feedback?
I am also comparing and contrasting my experience running an event debrief meeting this morning with moderating a student union supported student forum during my undergraduate co-curricular involvement. This morning, I gathered key participants and partners from my summer orientation programming to offer their feedback and suggestions around how to make things better and/or different for our next group of incoming students. The feedback was valuable and came from many important perspectives and experiences. While some participants were quieter than others, I felt no immediate hesitation in offering opinions; if anything, there was some hesitation from those who were sent on behalf of another member of their department and felt they could not offer the type of feedback we were looking for.
I compare this experience (different time, place and context notwithstanding) to moderating an anonymous student forum. As an executive member of our student government at the time and, as such, being quite (in)famous around campus due to my involvement in many large scale activities, I became one of many targets of hateful, offensive and sometimes just silly judgements of my character, appearance and relationship. I often wondered, and at times still do, if these students (whomever they were), would have offered the same level or type of ‘feedback’ if they were not anonymous. Would what they have said changed if they were posting under their own name?
What does this mean for student evaluations? The relationship between student and instructor can certainly be messy with an implied (though at times much more explicit) power dynamic, wherein evaluations are collected before the end of term and students may not want to be associated with any negatives comments about the instructor that they feel might impact their grades. While disheartening that this assumption exists at all, it brings me back to one of my original questions. In an age where we have more opportunities and seemingly more desire to be connected and known, are student evaluations one of the final frontiers for a disappearing need for privacy?
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment or Tweet Me to keep the conversation going.