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Marcus Arvan

I take issue with a few of Bogardus' claims. First, I don't think the generalization that students reward easy graders and punish hard ones is true. I'm a very, very hard grader and yet my student evals have been exemplary. Maybe one *can* get good evaluations by being easy -- but in my experience the other side of the equation (bad grades = bad evals) is flatly false. Second, I'm not so sure about the claim that administrators reward good evals for easy grading. Maybe my situation is unique, but our student evals contain items on how hard the course is, and my dean explicitly devalues good evals when students report the course is easy. And I think I'd be surprised if he is alone in this. Universities have a vested interest in putting out a good *product*: students that go out into the world with some real skills. This isn't to say that there isn't some of what Bogardus is talking about, but I tend to think it's overblown. I could be wrong, of course, but that's my general impression. There are some out there who devalue higher education by giving cakewalk courses, but I don't think it's an epidemic. If it were, there wouldn't be so many freshmen flunking out with sub-2.0 GPA's.

Christopher Haugen


You raise a good point. To tell the truth, I have seen a little of all these claims: tough grade gets poor evals, tough grader gets good evals, easy grader gets good evals, and easy grader gets bad evals. I am sure there is a different explanation for each, but I am sure, as you seem to suggest, there is some bias in evaluations due to the grade. It is an interesting question as to how to measure this and, if possible, eliminate it. I wonder what other biases are prevalent, e.g., a student disagrees the profs views (this might work the other direction as well). You seem to value evaluations. I have seen other people think otherwise. I would like to hear what others think.


My experience gels with Marcus' (I've gotten strong evals, even though I'm a hard grader), but something else Bogardus said is a genuine worry for me. I worry that my evals are strong because I'm an entertaining teacher (and a tall white male). While my student evals suggest that students are enjoying the class, they don't necessarily reassure me that students are learning. And it's possible that the "success" of my evals so far keeps me from experimenting and innovating in the classroom.

I'm also not sure when we decided that students are competent judges of their own learning. My favorite question on evals is the one that asks students to assess how well the professor knows the material. Um... how would they know? They end up assessing how confident the professor is instead. More bias...


There's a huge body of empirical research on this topic. I bet we could agree that anecdotes are less valuable than some careful studies on the question, e.g.: http://environment.yale.edu/kotchen/pubs/gradeval.pdf

I think AE-CP might be onto something, Marcus. Students respond to several things. Expected grade is a big one, but of course whiteness, maleness, tallness, language proficiency, confidence, and especially "entertainment value" are others.

Maybe you're a hard grader who gets good evals, but that doesn't show that high evals aren't in general correlated with high expected grades. For it might be that your students don't expect that your grades will be low, and that helps keep your student evals high. Or maybe they do expect your grades to be low, but they are influenced by some or all of those other factors to such a degree that you still get good evals.

Marcus Arvan

Michelle: you make some very good points. I agree, with AE-CP and yourself, that I may be overlooking those things. And thanks so much for the link to the article. I must confess (with some embarrassment) that I've never examined the empirical literature here. I agree that it's important to pay attention to it.

AE-CP: all very good points, as well. I didn't mean to suggest that students are competent judges of good teaching. I do think, though, we can help them *become* better judges, and that at the end of the day three things are jointly ideal: (1) students actually learning, (2) our *seeing* that they're learning, and (3) *their* seeing that they're learning. I, at least, try to shoot for all three. But maybe I'm too idealistic.

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