More on Teaching Evaluations

Not long after our grades are in, we’ll have access to online teaching evaluations for the term.  If you’ve had a class with high rates of plagiarism or low marks during the evaluation period, you might hold your breath before clicking to see the report.  Will the few students who filled out the online FCS be those who needed catharsis or who wanted to express appreciation?  Will enough students provide written comments to guide adjustments or confirm what worked? Will feedback from less than 10% of your class have an impact on your employment?

In an article in the April 25 Issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michelle Falcoff considers these issues. She summarizes the results of a 2016 faculty survey, and referring to her own experience directing a program in communication and legal reasoning at Northwestern, she points out that a required course, offered in the first year, with high standards and much critical feedback can lead to highly negative teaching evaluations. This suggests a more widely applicable definition of bias than that used in a recent study on gender bias and teaching evaluations.

In the same issue of the Chronicle, Karen Kelsey focuses on the ambiguous wording of evaluations and notes ways to make the exercise more accurate and useful. Falcoff recommends peer review to contextualize student comments.  She points to a resource from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) that provides an extensive list of measurement approaches that can put imperfect instruments such as the FCS into perspective. You may find some ideas for your teaching dossier on that list.

Those of you relatively new to Procom who still have to submit to peer evaluations may feel anxiety about faculty bias as well.  Another helpful resource from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching acknowledges this concern.  Click to “Possible Limitations of Peer Review.”

Finally, and more depressingly, are the implications of a 1993 study, which found that teaching evaluation results at the end of term were highly correlated to the impression students had of an instructor’s nonverbal behaviour in the first 30 seconds of the first class. Are our carefully constructed lectures, exercises and instruction, not to mention agonizing over grades, all for naught?

This is an area that makes contractual lecturers feel very vulnerable.  Perhaps it’s time for us to work more closely as a group to discuss how to make the teaching evaluation process more meaningful and fair.



Fair Dealing in Higher Education

Many of Procom’s introductory communication courses have  been slowly transitioning from textbooks to digital readings of one sort or another.  We save students money on a course requirement that some are hard-pressed to afford and many are reluctant to read.

I haven’t seen much evidence that students value print versions of communication textbooks even if they shelled out as much as the cost of two months of cell-phone expenses.  Tests and exercises compel reading, no matter the medium.  This has been the case for me in CMN 314, which uses Richard McMaster’s recommended online textbooks and CMN 288, which uses various articles and chapters via D2L’s one-stop course readings.

In her copyright lecture to my CMN 288 classes, Ann Ludbrook, Ryerson’s Copyright and Scholarly Engagement Librarian, warned that we’re in danger of losing this access to free online materials if copyright law is amended to curtail fair dealing. She urges students and teachers to persuade the government to reconsider:

Right now the government is gathering opinions about things that were added to the Copyright Act in 2012 (like fair dealing for education). This is the copyright review year which consists of consultations which will wrap up in early 2019. Right now they are planning a process of public consultations in face-to -face meetings (one of them will be in Toronto) and calling for feedback from Canadian citizens in the way of written submissions, and consulting specific interest groups. 

The Committee invites Canadians to submit written briefs not exceeding 2,000 words. Briefs may be sent to:

For more information on how to prepare a submission, please consult the Guide for Submitting Briefs to House of Commons Committees. 

Additional information can be found in the INDU news release, Ottawa U law professor Michael Geist’s summary update and former university administrator Michael Proulx’s op-ed on the potential impact on the free exchange of ideas.

You’ll also want to check out Catherine Jenkins’s submission to Fair Dealing ©anada, a site launched by the Association of Research Libraries. She provides both the student’s and teacher’s perspectives.