Grading the instructor: Student feedback in action

Patrick Walther, Staff Writer

Some choose their college based on location, some based on prestige, some based on cost and some even choose their college based simply on where their friends are going. While various reasons to attend or not attend a college exist, importance should be placed upon quality of education.

On the website, students have the chance to grade their teacher. Students rate their professors on a scale from one to five in areas such as easiness, helpfulness and clarity. The ratings given by students are then compiled and averaged to make, a virtual report card.

At face value, this website seems like a novelty. It’s a way for students to let off steam if they’re stressed about a certain course; it lets them know what they’re getting into with any new professors they may have from semester to semester; and it can show them they’re not necessarily alone if they’re having trouble with the teaching style of an instructor.

Look past these things and a different picture appears. The age-old argument of who controls the learning process is rekindled. The philosophical quandary boils down to this: When an entire class performs poorly on an exam, who is to blame? Are the students responsible for a successful learning environment through the posing of questions or by putting effort into creating an open dialogue? Or are the teachers responsible for pushing the students to do these things naturally?

More so, while the students’ livelihoods depend on the marks given by their instructors, do the professors even care what the students have to say about them? Would they change how they teach depending on the feedback of their students?

Dr. Chad Stanley, a professor in the Wilkes University English Department is, simply stated, passionate about what he does. Teaching subjects ranging from English 101 to a Horror and Science Fiction Literature course, Stanley has become a fixture at the university, a “living legend” so to speak, for his dialogue driven classes and motivational nature.

On the topic of whether or not professors care what students think of them, Stanley is the first to admit he does indeed care.

“Of course, what they ‘think’ about me matters,” he said. “It’s not a popularity contest. But anything that remotely pertains to my effectiveness as an educator I care very deeply about. I care more deeply about that than almost anything else in life.”

Stanley also admits to looking himself up on multiple times. As it stands, he has been reviewed by ten students and has an average overall rating of 4.9/5, making him one of the most highly rated professors for Wilkes University on the website. His lowest score is in the easiness category, which, rests at a 4.5/5.

On the topic of easiness and his “lowest” score, Stanley states “So many professors learn to be terrified of the idea of easiness. That doesn’t bother me so much, although that’s one of the metrics on Rate My Professors that my colleagues may have a problem with. But…that’s an educator’s role. We’re meant to take something difficult and make it easy. A good educator is able to do that and maybe to an extent where the student no longer realizes that it was ever really difficult because it becomes natural.”

Stanley is not alone in thinking that student feedback is valuable material to the modern educator. Wilkes allows students to evaluate their professors each semester.

“We pour over the feedback generated through the official Wilkes student response surveys, we save those, we review them ourselves, our program chairs review them and then review them with us.”

As opposed to Rate My Professors, the responses on these surveys have far reaching effects. The student reactions can determine the likelihood of a professor getting tenure or being promoted. So, these grades matter just as much as the marks given by teachers to students. Stanley further adds: “If we see something like a similar comment two semesters in a row, by two or three students, that’s something that should be addressed. Even the most anomalous comments deserve consideration.”

What students think is important. Furthermore, instructors that care what students think are in a better position for advancement. Student feedback does not fall on deaf ears. And at Wilkes, with the jobs of professors on the line and their competency being determined by those they teach, it never will.