Students regularly deal with teachers who refuse to hand back graded papers in a timely fashion or who arrive 15 minutes late to every class. To help remedy such problems, and to ensure that instructors teach in the most effective manner possible, beginning next semester, Temple University will institute a new University-wide system to evaluate the performance of professors.
In the past, each individual department in each school prepared its own separate evaluation for students to complete. The new system will provide students with a standard form that includes both multiple choice and open-ended questions to assess their professor’s performance.
“We’re not replacing any existing form. Rather, we’re using a new, centralized evaluation,” said Stephen Zelnick, vice provost for Academic Studies.
Questions on the form cover such subjects as the relevance of course materials, the strengths and weaknesses of the professor, and the fairness of the grading policy.
The form makes accommodations for the needs of individual departments, leaving an answer section blank where they can insert their own questions.
During the Fall 2001 semester, the system was piloted in three Temple schools: the College of Education, Fox School of Business and Management, and the Beaseley School of Law. The new forms were also used in the Intellectual Heritage (IH) department of the College of Liberal Arts.
Although few professors or students have provided feedback concerning the effectiveness of the new evaluations, professor Ralph Young, who taught two sections of IH last semester, offered his opinion.
“There were a couple of questions that I thought were irrelevant. For example, one question asked if the professor showed any discrimination against any minority group,” he said. “Personally, I think every professor at Temple would get the same response on that one as I got and that was absolutely no discrimination. Thus, I think it’s an irrelevant question.”
Administrators hope that the standardized form will serve two purposes.
“The form should be both formative, that is, it should produce an understanding of what the obligations are for teachers, and summative, that is, to see what has been done by professors and what they are doing,” said Zelnick.
Besides these evaluations, things such as the overall class GPA and samples of students’ work in the class are also taken into account when examining teacher performance.
The evaluations do not serve to judge the popularity of a professor or a particular class.
“We often see teachers who are effective but not popular, and who are popular but quite ineffective,” said Zelnick. “The question you have to answer is whether you are here to make friends or are here to learn something.”
Results from these evaluation forms will be key factors in determining decisions concerning the rehiring of teachers and whether continuing teachers will receive merit awards.
If evaluations reveal a lack of student satisfaction with a teacher’s performance, administrators will try to work with the teacher, giving them the opportunity to improve.
Zelnick spoke of sending teachers with poor reviews to a learning center created to assist teachers with developing a more effective manner of instruction.
“The new system of evaluation will allow interventions to help teachers do a better job in the classroom,” said Zelnick.
Other actions may be taken in hopes of improving a professor’s performance. Dan Tompkins, director of the IH department, said that if student evaluations reveal that a professor does not lecture well, the professor may be asked to attend a workshop on leading discussions to remedy this problem.
Teachers with low student ratings will also be asked to attend conferences with administrators to address concerns raised by their evaluations. Punitive action will only be used as a last resort if all other methods fail to produce results.
“This new system was not meant to crucify. It serves to give an idea of where teachers need work,” said Tompkins.
Zelnick hopes that these evaluations will not only improve the performance of teachers, they will allow teachers who have been performing well to receive praise for their hard work.
“Lots of our teachers are very good, and if we see good results, we can celebrate the person in public, and they can get the recognition they deserve,” Zelnick said.
Jessica White can be reached at SSparklej1@aol.com