Recommendation on Spring 2020 Student Evaluations of Teaching

This message was sent on April 15.

Dear Colleagues,

Even in ideal circumstances, Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) demonstrate known and problematic limitations in assessing teaching effectiveness. The Spring 2020 semester presents many additional challenges, including but not limited to: the agile but rapid transition by Wake Forest College faculty to remote teaching halfway through the semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; student and faculty personal and academic disruptions, anxieties, and frustrations during and after that (ongoing) transition; and a likely lower response rate for surveys administered outside of a face-to-face class format. More importantly, this semester’s disruption raises questions about SETs, and going forward, signifies a need and desire for larger College conversations about SETs’ purpose and design.

However, SETs–written and collected with autonomy by Wake Forest College departments and programs–provide one means for student feedback and reflection, particularly for faculty interested in formative student feedback about this semester’s challenges and opportunities. We as instructors can learn something formative if it turns out students are experiencing the course in ways we did not anticipate and/or are learning (or not learning) things we did not expect.

In light of these circumstances, the Office of the Dean of the College strongly recommends departments and programs make the following changes to Spring 2020 SETs:

1. Replace department’s or program’s standard SETs with a few (at most) open-ended reflective questions focused on student learning.

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching is happy to help departments and programs draft student learning questions; two questions, meant to be used together, are also included below as suggestions.

Sample Spring 2020 SET Question 1: Please describe your learning experience in this course before the shift to remote teaching. What material was most interesting? What material was most challenging? What activities and/or assignments motivated and/or facilitated your learning?

Sample Spring 2020 SET Question 2: Please describe your learning experience in this course after the shift to remote teaching. What material was most interesting? What material was most challenging? What activities and/or assignments motivated and/or facilitated your learning?

2. Use Spring 2020 SETs strictly as formative information for individual instructors, and not use these SETs in any evaluation.

Spring 2020 SETs should be sent directly and only to individual faculty. They should not be included in any department file or dossier for merit evaluation, contract renewal, promotion, or tenure considerations. SETs are most valuable when used as comparison over time, i.e., same instructor and same course.  This spring’s results are unlikely to fully reflect an instructor’s teaching performance or act as a useful comparison to past semesters.

Best,

Michele