Special to the Nursing Times: Common Sense Approach to Student Evaluations

Special to the Nursing Times: Common Sense Approach to Student Evaluations

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Constance E. McIntosh, EdD, MBA, RN.
Cynthia M Thomas EdD, MS, RNc.

A Tenure-line Faculty’s Common Sense Approach to Student Evaluations

By: Constance McIntosh, EdD, MBA, RN and co-authored by Cynthia Thomas, EdD, MS, RNC

Tenured university faculty are afforded academic freedom when teaching in order to lead to new advancements in pedagogy and quality instruction (AAUP, 2018). Faculty are evaluated annually for teaching primarily through evaluations whereby students assess the course and faculty.  Faculty seeking complete a multi-year interview process (often 7 years) to demonstrate their strengths in teaching, scholarship and service (AAUP, n. d.). If a tenure-line faculty does not exhibit expert knowledge in teaching, scholarship and service at the end of the tenure period then termination is often the result (Wang, 2016). Because the student evaluations (e.g., ratings, comments) of faculty are part of the determination of this outcome, the importance of evaluations is obvious in the teaching category. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS, 2002) takes a type of approach when categorizing patient domains (e.g., communication with doctors, pain management) that can also be applied when reviewing student evaluations. This article outlines a common sense approach (four steps) in reviewing and addressing ratings of student evaluations of faculty teaching. Tenured university faculty are afforded academic freedom when teaching in order to lead to new advancements in pedagogy and quality instruction (AAUP, 2018). Faculty are evaluated annually for teaching primarily through evaluations whereby students assess the course and faculty.  Faculty seeking complete a multi-year interview process (often 7 years) to demonstrate their strengths in teaching, scholarship and service (AAUP, n. d.). If a tenure-line faculty does not exhibit expert knowledge in teaching, scholarship and service at the end of the tenure period then termination is often the result (Wang, 2016). Because the student evaluations (e.g., ratings, comments) of faculty are part of the determination of this outcome, the importance of evaluations is obvious in the teaching category. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS, 2002) takes a type of approach when categorizing patient domains (e.g., communication with doctors, pain management) that can also be applied when reviewing student evaluations. This article outlines a common sense approach (four steps) in reviewing and addressing ratings of student evaluations of faculty teaching.  Although faculty strives to be stellar in teaching, it is simply unrealistic to have perfect scores in teaching evaluations. Therefore the first step in reviewing evaluations is to review the average score for each item/question. Determine if each of the items scored is falling above or below the mandatory score for your department. If so, then the score is falling in the average category and generally an average score for any particular item is acceptable (Simione, Cadden, & Mattie, 2008). And, therefore no further follow-up is needed. However, if the required department average (3.75 out of 5.0) but an item (e.g., timely feedback) is scored at 3.0, meaning this item scores well below the department requirement. And, therefore it needs to be addressed with an action plan (e.g. answer emails within 8 hours, grade exams within 24 hours).   Second, scrap any useless or disparaging comments (e.g., mean in nature). Student evaluations are meant to provide constructive feedback to the instructor, not free reign to write verbal abuse. Destructive comments are not useful to improve teaching and or course content.  It may be hard to not take destructive comments personally, but these comments should be seen as unhelpful and no further attention is needed. Third, sort the remaining comments into three categories: instructional, communication, and content. Instructional includes teaching strategies: lecture, group discussion and role-playing. Communication encompasses all interactions with students including verbal (e.g., class, individual), non-verbal (e.g., presentation style) and written (e.g., syllabus, email, on-line). The content category consists of anything related to the course content including nursing skills, clinical requirements, textbooks, activities and assignments (e.g., quizzes, papers, exams).  Fourth, determine patterns or trends for the aforementioned categories while also identifying the number of respondents in relation to the pattern of responses. For example, if two students (out of 400) comment that they ‘did not like the textbook’ then this is not considered a trend, as the 398 other students did not comment on the textbook. However, if there were only three students in the course, then this may be a real issue and further investigation (e.g., trend for another semester) is necessary.  Student evaluations (e.g., ratings, comments) can be a source of valuable information to improve teaching. However, evaluations can also be overwhelming if not evaluated in a common sense approach. Determining relevant comments while eliminating disparaging remarks that add nothing to faculty improvement is essential. Also, trending like items and putting an action plan (see helpful tips) into place to address common themes can lead to improved teaching and ultimately better student interaction. Furthermore, fully understanding the mandated department’s evaluation rating is necessary when reviewing items. Helpful Tips to Improve Student Evaluation Ratings* Provide student clinical assignments as early as possible.* Exhibit enthusiasm (e.g., positive, friendly) when teaching.* Provide clinical examples when lecturing.* Review lectures regularly and update presentations with current content and graphics.* Share real life examples (maintaining privacy).* Allow for a five-minute question and answer period before and after class.* Hold consistent weekly office hours.* Try a variety of teaching strategies Dr. Constance E. McIntosh & Dr. Cynthia M. Thomas, co-authors of, A Nurse’s Step-by-Step guide to Academic Promotion & Tenure, published through Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. www.nursingknoweldege.org/sttibooks. Dr. McIntosh is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Thomas is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at Ball State University.

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