By Eve Bracken-Ingram
Student voice in higher education is most frequently gathered through student evaluation surveys. The volume of surveys that students are asked to complete has steadily risen in recent years as a result of the increased focus on quality and student satisfaction in higher education. These surveys are used to evaluate student experience and teacher performance. Moore and Kuol (2005) (Source) investigate the value of student voice and the importance of teacher reaction to student evaluations of teaching.
Student evaluation of teaching is a controversial topic within higher education. Some critics argue that students are not accurate sources for teacher evaluation as they may be biased by grades and class difficulty. Resultantly, some have suggested that student evaluation may lead to inflated grades and deflated competence as teachers strive to gain positive feedback. Another concern is that student perceptions may be influenced by factors such as race and gender, leading to an unfair bias against minorities. Additionally, commentators highlight that the motives behind student evaluations of teaching are typically bureaucratic rather than education focused, perhaps limiting their success.
However, there is great evidence to suggest that student evaluations of teaching can provide valuable information on the effectiveness of teaching methods, equity in the classroom and teacher enthusiasm. By collecting perspectives from a diverse range of students, the specific difficulties of minority groups can be identified. Additionally, the use of student voice to evaluate teaching places emphasise on the important of teaching and may encourage academics to put greater effort into developing their teaching practices.
As student evaluations of teaching are given more weight within higher education, further attention must be given to the reaction of teachers to performance feedback. It has been found that reaction is not only dependant on whether the feedback is positive or negative, but also relates to purpose, timing, and presentation of the information. Initial reaction provides a great indication of the future efforts to improve performance. By identifying teacher reaction to feedback, potential pitfalls can be avoided.
Typically, positive feedback is received positively. It reinforces and endorses current practice, but may lead to complacency in future. Alternatively,positive feedback may be accompanied by a negative focus from teachers. Although this indicates a commitment to addressing problem areas and enhancing teaching methods, it may result in fixation on minor issues at the expense of overall good performance. Very rarely, negative feedback is viewed with a positive outlook. These rare cases are a result of ego protection and may indicate a difference in priorities between students and teacher. More often, negative feedback is matched with negative reaction which demonstrates a desire to improve teaching practices. Care must be taken however to ensure that negative feedback does not lead to discouragement and disengagement from teaching.
It is important to note that both positive and negative feedback can promote enhanced teaching practices but may also lead to reduced commitment and performance. Monitoring teacher reaction to student evaluations of teaching within the context of the feedback allows the outcomes to be predicted. By understanding the reasons behind the initial reaction, the processes which facilitate action in response to student voice can be improved.
[Source] Sarah Moore & Nyiel Kuol (2005) Students evaluating teachers: exploring the importance of faculty reaction to feedback on teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 10(1), 57-73 DOI: 10.1080/1356251052000305534