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07/17/2016

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GF-A

I have been on hiring committees at a SLAC several times. This post mostly matches my experiences. Just to add one wrinkle: my sense is that only including some of your classes' evaluations is not a huge red flag, UNLESS the only evaluations included in the dossier are from your small, upper-division classes. I think if you've taught 12 classes, leaving some evaluations out is not a red flag at all -- you don't need a 250-page dossier, and many search committees won't want one that long.

So: if you have seriously up-and-down evaluations, I would recommend including your best intro-level one(s), even if it's not fantastic, and maybe a selection of other ones where you have been in more 'challenging' teaching circumstances (e.g. bigger classes). The search committee sees their own evaluations every term; they know that, in general, teachers get lower scores on intro-level classes. And the committee is almost certainly looking for someone who will teach some intro-level classes.

M.B.W.

One problem with full disclosure is that for someone with a lot of teaching experience, the sheer volume of responses threatens to drown out any useful information.

Moreover, every school requires different things from evals. A place I worked required a student comment for every numerical rating! I cherry picked just so I wouldn't have a 100 page dossier. You see the problem: once I'm editing it, or would be presumed to be, why would I leave the worst comments in? Might not the committee assume the worst are my best?

I also think it's potentially unfair for members of groups who tend to be judged more harshly to abide by a norm of full disclosure. I don't think I need to make my first impression to colleagues out of crude comments on my appearance.

As a search committee member at a teaching school, I place less weight on comments and more on getting a sense of what the evaluation numbers mean. If you can compare yourself to departmental averages, that helps give context to the numbers. Even better, get someone to observe your teaching - have them write a letter.

Derek Bowman

The length issue that GF-A and M.B.W. mention is the reason I changed to only including selected evaluations. If I included all the student evaluations just for my first year, it would have been 2 pages times 140 students (35 per class, two classes per term) = 240 pages. I can (and have) compile and edit these down so they fit on fewer pages. But then it's still dozens of very dense pages. What committee - even at a teaching school - is going to comb through all of those?

From the applicant side it seemed like the choice was between a complete and representative picture of my teaching that no one would read or an incomplete cherry-picked version that has a small chance of catching someone's eye, at which point they can ask for more. I also think the comments I've cherry picked are informative, praising specific aspects of my teaching practice, rather than just generic positives.

Derek Bowman

Math fail. 280.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: There's another way around the length issue that doesn't make it potentially look like one is trying to hide negative comments. Simply include complete and unedited comments from one term only. I have about 140 students per year [which is your one term average], and I include all student comments. It does not make my portfolio too long.

Marcus Arvan

Hi M.B.W: I'm not sure about the length issue. I didn't mean to imply that one should include all students ever. Rather, my suggestion is that one should include all student comments from several courses OR academic years. I include full and unedited student comments from a couple of semesters, and it doesn't make my portfolio too long. Admittedly, I teach relatively small classes [25 students per class, 75 per semester], but I include several semesters worth of comments, and my portfolio is a very manageable length. If I were teaching larger classes, I would probably just include one semester of complete/unedited comments, and I think that would still be manageable.

I think your point about groups who tend to be judged more harshly is much more concerning--and I certainly understand not wanting to include [e.g.] crude comments on one's appearance. I cannot help but think that this is something that at least in part should be addressed at universities in the student evaluation process. No one should have to endure crude comments about their appearance--and indeed, such comments seem to me a hostile work environment. However, I realize that even if such comments were eliminated, this would not resolve the general problem you are pointing to. If some groups tend to receive more negative and/or meanspirited comments in evaluations, full disclosure may well put members of such groups at an unjust disadvantage.

Derek Bowman

How many pages is your teaching portfolio, then, Marcus? For one of my semesters with 70 students the consolidated evals alone are 7-8 fairly dense pages. (I'm not sure what it would look like with my current 4/4 load with different class sizes and differently structured evals).

On the hiring side, how many applications did you carefully read 8+ pages of evaluations for?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: I had a couple of versions of my teaching portfolio.

The version I sent to research schools was 31 pages in total, with one full semester's worth of single-spaced consolidated student comments--which was 5 pages.

The version I sent to teaching schools was much longer--about 50-60 pages, with several semesters' worth of comments.

I cannot say how many applications I read 8+ pages of evaluations for. But I think your question there might sort of miss the forest for trees. The most salient question is not whether people actually read every page of every application [as different people plausibly look for different things in an application, and some early "cuts" might be based on CVs, writing samples, etc.]. Rather, the most salient question is whether reading the phrase "selected student comments" might raise a yellow/red flag in readers' minds, leaving them to wonder what sorts of comments might have been left out. Further, I also suspect that when it comes to final decisions about who to interview/invite to campus in particular--both of which are obviously very important stages of the selection process--the proportion of files that get read very carefully, page by page, probably increases dramatically.

Jerry Green

#dang. And I thought my teaching portfolio was long (c. 30 pp)!.

Just to add to Marcus's 9:15 comment. I did something similar: one unedited set of comments (c. 12 out of a 20-25 person class), and linked to my website where I posted the rest.

I think this approach strikes the best balance you can get away with. On the one hand, since you've got a full set of unedited comments, and make the rest available, you're not trying to hide anything, and I think there's something to be said for a confident display of your information. On the other, the only people who care enough to actually go luck at the info online will know enough about teaching to understand how variable written comments can be, and how common it is to get that one very negative outlier.

Derek Bowman

Thanks, Marcus. I'm sure you're right re: forest/trees. Yet another case where it's a mistake to think of the information presented in a job dossier as a genuine attempt at direct communication by way of the information presented.

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