• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products Here!

Ideas that kill education

  • Thread starter Borek
  • Start date
  • #1
Borek
Mentor
28,441
2,838

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
Student evaluations are (generally) useless. I'm sorry to see some administrators thinking otherwise.

Well, since education is subject to the same pressures as medicine (i.e. the recipient of a *service* is considered a *customer*, and the customer is always right), it's not surprising. Yet another race to the bottom....
 
  • #3
601
0
Student evaluations are (generally) useless. I'm sorry to see some administrators thinking otherwise.
They are not worthless, they are just not doing everything by themselves. It is good for the teachers to get some feedback but it is not like a teacher will change the course outline due to it. Doesn't matter if he don't get promoted for it or not, what matters is that most people care about their honor and try to do a good job when people depend on them and this reminds them of that. Technically most teachers could do a much lousier job than they currently do and still keep their jobs without consequences but they don't, the more you can play on those feelings the better.

Edit: Btw, I think that having course evaluation and such playing a role in their salary would be detrimental to their teaching.
 
  • #4
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
I didn't say they were worthless. I said they are useless. There's a difference.
 
  • #5
601
0
I didn't say they were worthless. I said they are useless. There's a difference.
Point taken.
 
  • #6
133
0
As a member of the part-time faculty at our local community college, I've often wished for some sort of objective way to measure my success as a teacher. Any suggestions? It would be nice to be able to say year-over-year that I have improved at what I do.
 
  • #7
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
I've been thinking about that, too- and learning some of the educational 'lingo'. One important step is to first define what your course goals are: that is, when you say you have successfully taught a group of students, what exactly do you mean? *what* have the students been taught?

From what I gather, most "assessments"- homeworks, tests, etc., are measurements of the success of the student. In Physics education, there's been a recent development of new types of tests (concept inventories, the Force Concept Inventory is the most well-known) that are supposed to be a better assessment:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_inventory

With all the assessment tools available, there does not appear to be a single one designed to measure the teacher. To be sure, test scores are often used as a measure of the teacher, but the reality is the the student is being tested.

Part of my tenure package is a "teaching portfolio", and I've been trying to incorporate exactly what you are asking about: evidence that I am a successful teacher (or more accurately, I demonstrate progress towards competency).

I don't have a definitive answer, but some examples I came up with are: students ask more and more sophisticated questions in class; tests and homeworks that demonstrate the student can think logically and solve complex problems, students can correctly apply some basic factual knowledge- those are some of my course goals.

To summarize, there is not (AFAIK) an assessment desgined to measure the teacher- you must develop your own. In order to do that, you must begin with your goals of what you want the students to learn. Your college may have teaching resources available to you, and I recommend you make use of them. I'm reading a book "What the best college teachers do" (Ken Bain), and it's pretty good- you may want to check it out.
 
  • #8
mgb_phys
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
7,774
12
With all the assessment tools available, there does not appear to be a single one designed to measure the teacher. To be sure, test scores are often used as a measure of the teacher, but the reality is the the student is being tested.
The goal of schools is to maximize test scores, the point of a teacher is to do that - so test scores are the only necessary measure of teaching performance.

I suppose you could refine it to the change in test scores with a new teacher
 
  • #9
1,086
2
The goal of schools is to maximize test scores, the point of a teacher is to do that - so test scores are the only necessary measure of teaching performance.
I thought it was maximizing the knowledge students get, and even then it's somewhat ambiguous, as you don't know whether it's strictly knowledge of the area you're teaching or more generally increasing preparedness to deal with and improve the real world.
 
  • #10
Borek
Mentor
28,441
2,838
I thought it was maximizing the knowledge students get
That was before tests were introduced to check students knowledge. The idea was that tests should be objective, identical and used at the same time in different schools to make results comparable. That ended with teaching to the test - it doesn't matter what student knows and understands, it matters if the student gets high score on the test, so high score gets a priority over understanding. It may look like understanding leads to high scores, obviously it is not that simple, and kid got thrown with a bath. Pupils are doing previous tests, test tests, trial tests and preparatory tests, to get prepared to the real test. Somehow they don't have time to really understand the material.
 
  • #11
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
The goal of schools is to maximize test scores, the point of a teacher is to do that - so test scores are the only necessary measure of teaching performance.

I suppose you could refine it to the change in test scores with a new teacher
Given the title of this thread, you've either made a very ironic post, or a very sad one.
 
  • #12
124
0
Isn't he just being realistic?
 
  • #13
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
That was before tests were introduced to check students knowledge.
I think I understand what you really mean, but standardized tests have been around a verrrrrrrry long time: 6th century, at least. Tests have been around even longer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardized_test

This is not a new problem; what is (refreshingly) new is the idea of applying the scientific method in assessing the act of learning: hypothesize, test, assess, repeat and refine.

It's no surprise that the goals of the teacher and the goals of the student are often very different. That does not invalidate the teacher's need for constant improvement. Self-assessment is one way to achieve this.
 
  • #14
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
Isn't he just being realistic?
I assume you are referring to mgb_phys's post?

Those comments absolutely reflect the b.s. associated with the "no child left behind" act, as well as other *standardized* tests. I cannot argue against their utility, but I can object to the mentality.

Those comments do not apply to college instruction, as those tests are not standardized. At least mine aren't. Hopefully, you can understand that some students will have a hard time making the transition from being taught to a test their whole life, then entering a classroom where memorization of facts is secondary to the ability to think.

Edit: I guess I should be honest and say that yes, there are plenty of college professors that continue the idea of route memorization (introductory science classes in particular), but I don't have to teach that way if I think it's an inferior method, which I do.
 
  • #15
Borek
Mentor
28,441
2,838
I think I understand what you really mean, but standardized tests have been around a verrrrrrrry long time: 6th century, at least. Tests have been around even longer.
Yep, I see I wasn't clear. I am not against tests as such, I am against policy that made teachers teach to the test.
 
  • #16
708
7
Just because a data set contains a lot of noise does not make it useless (or worthless). Good feedback is the most important part of any Scientific endeavor. While this particular application may be very flawed, I am surprised that some esteemed scientists here seem adverse to developing measurable tests of the efficacy of their methods.

All you have to do is surf around the very random and unscientific 'ratemyprofessors' to see that, despite the low quality of the data, you can still get useful information from student feedback. Imagine if someone (without a political axe to grind) actually put a little effort into it?
 
Last edited:
  • #17
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
I am surprised that some esteemed scientists here seem adverse to developing measurable tests of the efficacy of their methods.
I see no post here that supports this assertion. Please explain what you mean?
 
  • #18
708
7
I see no post here that supports this assertion. Please explain what you mean?
I did not mean it as a blanket statement. However:
Student evaluations are (generally) useless.
...test scores are the only necessary measure of teaching performance
Perhaps I misinterpreted these comments? If so, I apologize, but humour and subtlety are easily lost in posts. I am less familiar with the US standardized testing system.

Also, the article itself (which wasn't necessarily supported by anyone here) was pretty disparaging of student's abilities to assess their own learning process and give useful feedback.
 
  • #19
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
Perhaps I misinterpreted these comments?
I think you misunderstood my posts. Specifically, I have claimed:

1) While there are many methods to assess students, there are (AFAIK) none that assess the instructor.
2) Student assessments of instructors generally do not contain information sufficient for the instructor to gain an objective measure of effectiveness.
3) That does not mean instructors should not try and develop self-assessment tools.
 
  • #20
yossell
Gold Member
363
16
I've found that the worth of student evaluations depends heavily on the maturity and ability of the students I've taught. At the very best places, where the students were motivated, bright and interested, their feedback, especially their comments, helped me see which parts of my courses had worked better than others, and sometimes contained useful suggestions.

At another place I taught where, by large, the students were not very motivated, indifferent, a little bit lazy and not wanting to be pushed, the student evaluation forms had a negative effect on the quality of teaching. Alas, the students didn't like being pushed, they responded to flattery rather than fair and honest criticism, and preferred easy courses that didn't push them. After a few years there, and a few negative evaluations, and a few depressing sessions in front of our Head of Department, I played that game, bit my tongue, told a few jokes and won them over. Everyone was happy - except me and I soon quit the place.

It's an interesting question how you assess the success of your course - but student evaluations and tests passed are, in my view, pretty dangerous instruments if not used wisely.
 
  • #21
6,814
13
Student evaluations are (generally) useless. I'm sorry to see some administrators thinking otherwise.
It really depends on who the students are. I found student evaluations at MIT and University of Phoenix to be extremely useful because they both have extremely motivated and high caliber students.

One signal as to whether or not student evaluations are useful or not is to count the number of evaluations that complain that the class was too easy and the teacher didn't challenge the students enough.

There is a lot of self-selection here, because one thing that I've found is that students that aren't motivated tend not to choose physics classes as electives.

Student evaluations can work either well or badly, but I wasn't impressed by Fish's article since he is looking very superficially at a proposal, and just bashing it randomly.
 
Last edited:
  • #22
Andy Resnick
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,441
1,955
I think there's a more fundamental disconnect involved, because the teacher and student (generally) have different learning objectives.

Generally speaking, the teacher's objective(s) is for the student to understand/master the presented material. Generally speaking, the student's objective is to get a good grade/pass.

I'm being serious- assessment tools like tests and projects are written from the teacher's perspective: how complete is the student's comprehension or mastery of the course material? Assessment tools like teacher evaluations are written from the administration's point of view: how effective is the teacher? The evaluations are answered from the student's perspective: how reasonable were the requirements for a good grade, and did the teacher help or hinder my ability to get a good grade?

Note, there's nothing inherently wrong with a student wanting nothing more than to pass the class, or get a good grade. I see this a lot from pre-professional students: pre-med, pre-pharm, pre-dental, etc. Generally, the percentage of *all* student questions regarding grading policy, tests, homeworks, etc. is far higher than questions pertaining to subject mastery.

The trick is to challenge the student while being clear that students who meet the challenge will be happy with the grade they earn. That, and setting reasonable challenges.... :) So as the class moves along, those students who desperately want a good grade have a clear understanding of what they need to do to get a good grade. Which, coincidentally (or maybe not!), happens to be the ability to demonstrate to me that they understand the material, along with a clear definition of 'understand'- in my case, it's correctly and clearly formulating and setting up the problem for solution.

So far, my evaluations have been average- no complaints about an unreasonable burden, and no praise about how easy the class is.
 
  • #23
D H
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Insights Author
15,393
683
Yep, I see I wasn't clear. I am not against tests as such, I am against policy that made teachers teach to the test.
When schools are graded on the aggregate performance on standardized tests, you can bet that teachers will be strongly encouraged to teach the test. That old joke about the drunk looking for his keys comes to mind ...
A cop sees a drunk stumbling around under a streetlight and asks if he needs help. "I lost my keys and I can't find them!" said the drunk. The cop asks where he lost the keys, to which the response was "In that dark area over there." "So why are you looking here?" asked the cop. The answer: "Because its dark over there!"​
Standardized tests are the ground under the streetlight. That ground is not where our (good) future lies.

Regarding student evaluations: I certainly hope that the school where I took my worst course ever took the evaluations from that course to heart. I got an A, so I wasn't complaining about my grade. The school assigned a pure mathematician to teach a grad level course on optimal control theory. Big mistake! We spent the whole semester covering existence and uniqueness, the first 60 pages in a big thick text. Worthless.
 
  • #24
9
0
That was before tests were introduced to check students knowledge. The idea was that tests should be objective, identical and used at the same time in different schools to make results comparable. That ended with teaching to the test - it doesn't matter what student knows and understands, it matters if the student gets high score on the test, so high score gets a priority over understanding. It may look like understanding leads to high scores, obviously it is not that simple, and kid got thrown with a bath. Pupils are doing previous tests, test tests, trial tests and preparatory tests, to get prepared to the real test. Somehow they don't have time to really understand the material.
I had to bump this thread. I recently transferred to a big university and it's amazing seeing how the test takes precedence over actual learning. 95% of the students learn by memorization and repetition instead of understanding things logically and building an intuition. Another thing is the horrible practice of finals week where students cram and take drugs in order to focus. I used to think it was the students, but now I think its the broken educational system.

I'm not good at learning many different things quickly because I need to read a lot and see the big picture and build intuition. I have a very good memory though. My grades have suffered tremendously because I don't fit into the current system, while many students who don't actually or know the subject after the tests get good grades.

I hate to say something is bad and not offer a solution. I'm trying to find ways to better integrate technology into education so that individuals are actually educated instead of this generic system of educating the masses. We never teach students to understand and develop the way THEY learn . Instead we throw out generic templates. I think I'm going to right a book on this, but that probably won't do much since this is such a fundamental problem on such a large scale.
 
  • #25
member 392791
That was before tests were introduced to check students knowledge. The idea was that tests should be objective, identical and used at the same time in different schools to make results comparable. That ended with teaching to the test - it doesn't matter what student knows and understands, it matters if the student gets high score on the test, so high score gets a priority over understanding. It may look like understanding leads to high scores, obviously it is not that simple, and kid got thrown with a bath. Pupils are doing previous tests, test tests, trial tests and preparatory tests, to get prepared to the real test. Somehow they don't have time to really understand the material.
I agree with this. In my own calc III class I just do my friend's old test and duplicate whatever he did onto my own test, only difference is the numbers are changed. I have the highest grade in the class and I have little idea of whats going on.
 

Related Threads on Ideas that kill education

Replies
3
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
0
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
2K
  • Poll
  • Last Post
Replies
13
Views
9K
  • Last Post
Replies
0
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
9
Views
6K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
33
Views
18K
  • Last Post
Replies
17
Views
14K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
4K
Top