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These days it is very common to have some course evaluation towards the end of a course, in which students respond to standardized questions on a numerical scale (e.g. between 1 and 5) and can additionally give free-form comments.

Sometimes individual lecturers make student comments (and their responses) available to the cohort in which the survey was taken and the next cohort, to show that they are open to critique and how they respond to it.

I am, however, more interested in cases where there is a departmental/faculty/university-wide policy to consistently publish evaluation results for all of their courses (averages of numerical data only, or perhaps the free-form comments as well) to the current and future cohorts.

  • Is it common for universities to have a policy of publishing student course evaluations?
  • What are advantages and disadvantages of doing this?
  • Has this been looked at in the educational literature?
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    It's common in the US for the average results to be available to students. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 13 '16 at 4:32
  • It's certainly a university-wide policy where I am. I suspect it's more-or-less a national policy, but I haven't checked the details. – Jessica B Apr 13 '16 at 5:53
  • At my institution these are not made public in any way of which I'm aware. Actually, the whole process of student evaluations has been much reduced since we switched to online out-of-class evaluations (generally only 1-5 respondents per class). – Daniel R. Collins May 20 '16 at 14:53
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    @DanielR.Collins I also observe this reduction at my school upon the institution of online evaluations. This is actually very troubling if administration is to use percentages as red flags. You find yourself explaining what went wrong when all that went wrong was the wrong 2 students filled out the stupid thing. I'm going to start giving them in class again to guard against this. – James S. Cook Jun 19 '16 at 2:07
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I used to adjunct at a strong college as part of a larger university where the student government was able to get a policy in place on publishing (statistics on) evaluations. The professor/adjunct had the choice to not publish their results; but this was uncommon since then you would be an outlier and it would seem like you had something to hide.

  • Pros: Frankly, with things like "rate my professor" out there, I'd rather have everyone's evaluations take into account than just the extremes. I think the point is that, provided we avoid the cons I will outline, there is transparency of some sort of metric of performance. Generally I found the statistics to show something reliable about professors based on what other faculty and students said about them. It prevents faculty from thinking they can just disregard the opinions of their students and it helps students have a consistent and official place to decide which instructor they would like to teach them (in a larger college anyway).

  • Cons: You need not look far to see academics complain about this practice. The only concern for me would be if for some reason there was some sort of plot to purposely bomb a professor's evaluations or a professor tried to game the system; these are generally not serious worries and one would hope there would be checks and balances for these concerns.

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    Other problem with RateMyProfessor is that it's possible to create an instructor account and remove any assessments that you don't like. Of course very few people do that, but the worst/most manipulative professors are the most incited to do so. – Daniel R. Collins May 20 '16 at 14:56
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At my former UK university students evaluated the course (i.e., major), module (i.e., class), and teacher withat separate processes. The university published the evaluations of the course and module. The union fought against the publishing of evaluations of the teacher. The issue is that student evaluations of teaching often reveal a large degree of racism, sexism, and intolerance of the LGBT+ community. Publishing open comments that are unprofessional is unprofessional. Given the views commonly expressed in the open comments, calls into question the validity of across teacher comparisons of the numeric ratings.

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Where I am it is common to make the evaluations available to the course but not public. In fact, we have the evaluation in the middle of the course and the instructor is expected to discuss the result with the class and try to improve the course based on the feedback. To do so, many instructors show the aggregated results of the survey in class so that everybody can see the results. I also do so because I think it is helpful, especially when dealing with student who have extreme opinions and speak up load. So there could be one student who thinks that everything in great, and wants more or more difficult homework (I had one of these…) but the rest of the course is struggling already. Showing the average workload of the course then makes it clear that this guy is an "outlier".

Another important thing: Usually there is space for free comments on the course and at my place these comments are scanned and not transcribed. So it is usually not a problem to identify who has written a comment. I tell this to the students in advance: "The hand written comments will be scanned and I will be able to see the scans." The students can then decide if they want to use free comments or not and if they try to use a different hand writing. However, I do not show the scanned comments in class but only read some of them.

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I'm not familiar with and studies conducted on this. However, in my two universities (US and non-US), the department does not publish them online but rather discuss the average rating of individual courses as well as the average of all courses in the department meeting at the end of the semester. In addition, each professor gets to see the average of the courses s/he teaches and compares it with that of the average rating of the courses offered by the department and school (not sure how f the average rating of all the courses provides in the university and is available there).

An advantage can be in terms of knowing your performance compared the other courses! Which can be also a stressful disappointed if you get low ratings (disadvantage?!)

To be honest, I have seen many evaluations that discuss in detail how a professor is "bad", unfortunately nobody seems to tale actions especially if such a professor got tenured or brings in a lot of funding!

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