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05/12/2020

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EuropeanTTinAmerica

The European university systems are quite different from each other. I have taught at a middle European university which conducted student evaluations regularly and shared it with me. The student evaluations at this university have been much more sophisticated than the student evaluations at my current American university (from a social science point of view).

Running informal student evaluations at the end of the term sounds like a good idea to me. I would also ask former students to write a letter for me. Such letters are accepted in my tenure procedure as (additional) evidence of teaching excellence. I also know a colleague who has asked his former students to write evaluation letters for him when he has started applying in America.

curious

Thanks, EuropeanTTinAmerica!
It would be interesting to have another thread about student letters. Is it a good idea to add some of them to one's teaching portfolio?

A-student

Curious
Frankly, I think student letters are worth nothing, especially if they are solicited by you - their teacher. What choice do the students have but to write a strong letter. And who says you did not write it?
I have been asked twice to write letters for professors - but in both cases it was instigated by the hiring or promoting institution. One of my profs from when I was an undergrad was going up for promotion and the university solicited a letter - at that point I was in graduate school. And in another case, a supportive faculty member was being considered for an endowed chair, and she put my name forward as someone who might speak to her ability as a teacher/mentor. The hiring institution then contacted me and requested a letter. In these cases a letter might matter.

EuropeanTTinAmerica

@curious: I do not think that it is worth including student letters in your teaching portfolio, if you have institution run teaching evaluations.

I thus agree with A-student that they are not very valuable. But the question of this thread is what can someone do who does not have institution run student evaluations. By the way, there is a lot of scientific evidence that demonstrates that teaching evaluations are no reliable source anyway. And teaching evaluations usually have a section in which students tell you what they liked about your course. I included this section in my teaching dossier and I see it included in dossiers of others. Hence, teaching evaluations include a part which is pretty close to student letters.

@A-student: You describe two cases in which institutions have asked you for a letter. How can you conclude that they are worth nothing? Institutions seem to think that they are worth something. But yes, they are more problematic, if you have to solicit them yourself--but this is the issue of this thread. I believe that it depends very much on the letters themselves whether they are of value or not. I would ask the students to describe how my course has helped to learn and to develop as philosophers. They should be evidence of my teaching and not recommendation letters.

Amanda

Marcus, I am curious what you think of student letters? I am surprised by the "worth nothing" comment. I mean, I think student letters, to be of much value, should be part of an entire impressive portfolio. However, I actually thought they were quite valuable. Or they would be to my assessment of teaching. If a student goes out of their way to write a professor a letter, I think that means the professor had an unusual and positive impact on the student. That seems a good thing to me, all things considered equal

Marcus Arvan

Hey Amanda: I'm really not sure about student letters. I suppose if they were part of an otherwise outstanding teaching portfolio, they might only add to my estimation of the candidate. But in general, I'm not that inclined to ascribe much value to student evaluations of instruction, as students can like an instructor for many reasons. Anyway, I don't recall seeing student letters in any teaching portfolios that I reviewed, and I don't have much of a clue how other search committee members regard them!

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