Faculty who study student evaluations may be biased

Faculty who research student evaluations might be influenced by how their students have evaluated them in the past, John Elmes reports for Times Higher Education.

The researcher who conducted the independent study, Michael Carlozzi, is a University of Oxford graduate and the director of the Wareham Free Library in Massachusetts.

Here's how Carlozzi conducted the study

Carlozzi was interested in understanding why student evaluations are so polarizing among faculty in higher education, writes Elmes.

Should grades factor into faculty evaluations?

Carlozzi examined the student reviews of 230 faculty on the site "Rate my Professor," where students post comments about the performance of faculty with whom they have taken a course. Carlozzi chose faculty that had either research papers that were critical of student evaluation or papers that praised them, Elmes writes.

For his study, Carlozzi grouped previous research on the topic into those who ended up in favor of student evaluations and those who ended up against them. However, Carlozzi acknowledges that this binary doesn't fully capture the nuances of different perspectives on student evaluations.

Here's what he found out

Faculty who were the lead authors of papers that criticized student evaluations were 14 times more likely to have a below-average review than faculty who had written papers that praised student evaluations, according to Carlozzi's research.

Here's why it matters to you

In his study, Carlozzi writes that his results indicate faculty may be biased in their research about student evaluations. For example, if professors have a personal grudge against student evaluations, they might be more likely to write negatively about them.

He acknowledges that the influence on the researcher might be subconscious, but nevertheless, Carlozzi concludes that those who read papers on the topic should do so with a "critical eye."

However, Carlozzi acknowledges there are limitations to his study, and adds that there is value in reading the existing research on student evaluations, as many of the researchers are highly respected within their fields (Elmes, Times Higher Education, 7/19).

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