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March 7, 2007

Examining and reforming student evaluations

My OSU colleague Deborah Jones Merritt has this fascinating and provocative new piece posted at SSRN about student evaluations.  The piece is entitled "Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching," and here is the abstract:

Student evaluations of teaching are a common fixture at American law schools, but they harbor surprising biases.  Extensive psychology research demonstrates that these assessments respond overwhelmingly to a professor's appearance and nonverbal behavior; ratings based on just thirty seconds of silent videotape correlate strongly with end-of-semester evaluations. The nonverbal behaviors that influence teaching evaluations are rooted in physiology, culture, and habit, allowing characteristics like race and gender to affect evaluations.

The current process of gathering evaluations, moreover, allows social stereotypes to filter students' perceptions, increasing risks of bias.  These distortions are inevitable products of the intuitive, "system one" cognitive processes that the present process taps. The cure for these biases requires schools to design new student evaluation systems, such as ones based on facilitated group discussion, that enable more reflective, deliberative judgments.  This article draws upon research in cognitive decision making, both to present the compelling case for reforming the current system of evaluating classroom performance and to illuminate the cognitive processes that underlie many facets of the legal system.

In addition to being interested in reader reactions to this article, I would also be eager to hear suggestions for innovate ways for law students to effectively evaluate and help improve law teaching.

Posted by DAB

March 7, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink

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