Michael O'Hare: Malpractice with chalk on our sleeves:
My colleague Philip Stark, in our statistics department, is on the job…. Student evaluations of teaching (SET’s) have many important advantages as a quality assurance mechanism. First, they are extremely cheap…. Second, they completely protect faculty from engaging with each other about pedagogy…. Third, it has never been shown conclusively that outsourcing teaching quality assurance in this way has damaged any core values, neither research productivity nor the record of the football team. Nor parking, I guess….
Do good SET’s indicate more learning by students? On the Berkeley Teaching Blog, along with the director of our Teaching and Learning Center, Richard Freishtat, Philip has posted the first and the second of three analyses of what we know about this, and his findings are devastating… to the claim that we are managing the resources society has given us in the way we say we are, for excellence in research and teaching. (If you are a student at Cal, or a taxpayer in California, you should be in the streets with pitchforks and torches. If you are our new chancellor (or our new president), fixing this should be your Job One….
What Philip presents is actually not a secret from most of us. We have all had low SET scores in courses where we have other evidence that the students really learned a lot, and we know about highly rated courses that seem to be a bunch of fluff, and many of us know some of the literature he cites. So continuing to use SETs in this consequential way is behavioral evidence that we do not care enough about teaching to use all our skills and powers to advance it…. I never see anyone else work, and my colleagues never see me…. So allowing them to displace real coaching and peer evaluation reinforces the fear of engaging with our peers to learn to teach better that everyone in a high-performance institution always feels…. I know I can write a paper that people I respect will value (or I wouldn’t have got here in the first place), but I really have no idea what will happen if cook up an innovative new exercise for class and invite a colleague to hang out in my classroom and give me some coaching on it.
OK, I do have an idea, rooted in my knowledge that teaching is affectively fraught, and my deep-down sense that I am not the warm, supportive, emotionally competent person I want to be. The sleep of reason breeds nightmares and so does the drought of facts. Deming: “Drive out fear.” But I have a nice set of powerpoints from last year, and the students didn’t ask any questions I couldn’t answer, and I can stick in a couple of slides from this fascinating paper that just came out in the Journal of Really Arcane Stuff, plus a new joke…speaking of which, here’s one that actually has some basis in our reality: “Teaching is the tax you pay to do your research. Tax avoidance (not evasion) is the duty of a citizen.”