MSA pushing for new teacher evaluations

The group and the Faculty Senate are advocating for more transparency.

Kaitlyn Walek

The Minnesota Student Association passed a position statement last week that could lead to changes in teacher evaluation forms at the University of Minnesota.

The proposed changes would revise two questions on the form and change University policy to make more information from the evaluations available to students to better inform their registration choices.

The University’s Faculty Senate heard a similar resolution in December and will vote this spring to officially approve evaluation form changes.

Students and professors have expressed concern with the question currently on the form that asks students, “What could you have done to be a better learner?”

“I always hear complaints about [this question],” said the author of MSA’s position statement, Valkyrie Jensen.

Some faculty members say they don’t receive valuable feedback from the question. Earth sciences professor Kent Kirkby said he’ll be glad to see the question revised if the Faculty Senate approves the changes.

“It’s really pretty silly to ask that sort of question,” he said. “[It] doesn’t do anything other than typically get students upset.”

Kirkby said he often tells his students to use that question’s space to give advice to future students who take the course, which he said creates more valuable feedback than the original question.

Nursing sophomore Maggie Tremann said she often writes the same information for every teacher’s evaluation, so more in-depth questions would be helpful in bolstering the effectiveness of teacher evaluations.

MSA’s proposed changes would also add the question “What suggestions do you have for improving this course?”

Tremann said this question could benefit students because many of them want to give input on courses.

But not all students believe this question will be useful.

Kinesiology sophomore Tori Iverson said the proposed question is vague and may not be helpful if students don’t know enough to have an informed opinion.

“A lot of kids don’t know teaching styles. … Our opinions wouldn’t necessarily be important in that case,” she said.

The MSA position statement also supports making more evaluations public to provide greater information during registration. Under the University’s current policy, instructors must opt in to a program to have any class evaluations released.

A small percentage of professors choose to do this, said Faculty Senate Consultative Committee Chair William Durfee, but that number could increase to include many professors if the evaluation form policy changes.

Still, some professors have concerns that more transparency in evaluation forms could negatively impact their teaching.

“The fear in some people’s minds is that the more open you have this, the more the pressure for getting good evaluations might end up compromising teaching,” Kirkby said.

But Kirkby isn’t concerned about this and said students could benefit from choosing a professor who fits their learning style.