North Texas Daily

UNT students grading professors using SPOT evaluations

UNT students grading professors using SPOT evaluations

May 31
17:44 2017

Nina Quatrino | Staff Writer

At the end of every semester, students are encouraged to fill out their professor’s teaching evaluations. In the same way that students are graded throughout the semester, the evaluations provide students with the opportunity to “grade” their professors based on personal and academic experiences in the course, both positive and negative.

The Student Perceptions of Teaching, also known as the SPOT evaluation, is the official student-faculty evaluation system at UNT. They are required to be given out to students at the end of every semester, under the Texas House Bill 2504.

After conducting a comprehensive review of various evaluation systems, UNT selected SPOT as their preferred system. SPOT is delivered by IASystem, originally from the University of Washington.

Colleges and departments throughout UNT use the results of the SPOT evaluations to assess teaching performance and effectiveness. The university then pays close attention to the responses and response rates.

“We encourage every student to fill out SPOT evaluations because they provide feedback, but also they are more meaningful if everyone fills them out,” said Marilyn K Wiley, College of Business Dean.

Prior to SPOT, teaching evaluations were conducted in the classrooms on paper. Students filled out surveys anonymously while their professors left the room and dropped them into a manila folder for later review. Now with the entire system online, students have the freedom to express their experiences with the course in SPOT reviews and on websites like Rate My Professor.

But with the freedom to complete the surveys at the students’ leisure comes another challenge.

“Online surveys historically have lower response rates,” Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Christy Crutsinger said.

When comparing the turnout of paper evaluations and online student evaluations, the main difference is the ratio of students and responses.

“If it was 10 percent [of the students who responded], that’s different than if it were 90 percent of the class saying ‘every semester, this professor is a terrible teacher,'” Wiley said. “Because they are anonymous, it can be hard to tell. But usually there are two extremes of distributions; those who like [the course] and those who dislike [the course].”

In a poll conducted by the North Texas Daily’s twitter account, students were asked to vote whether or not they filled out SPOT evaluations or left comments on websites, such as “Rate My Professors.”

Of the 82 poll participants, 57 percent of students said they always fill out their teacher evaluations “no matter what,” implying students did them regardless of their experience in the course.

However, 19 percent of voters said that they never do their evaluations.

“Currently, our spring response rate is 56 percent, which is trending upwards each semester,” Crutsinger said.

This upward increase in student participation is present in the results of the poll, most likely due to the reward of extra credit.

“Professors are encouraged to promote student participation at their discretion under UNT’s Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility policy,” Crutsinger said. “Recommendations for awarding extra credit for completing SPOT are limited to an entire course reaching a certain percentage – not at the individual student level.”

Even though SPOT evaluations are important and it is encouraged students participate fairly, this survey is not the only factor used to evaluate UNT professors.

“Faculty are evaluated based on their contributions in teaching, research and service, depending upon their rank and workload,” Crutsinger said. “When evaluating teaching effectiveness, faculty include other important metrics in their teaching portfolios beyond student evaluations, such as sample course syllabi, innovative pedagogical teaching methods, peer evaluations, teaching philosophies, undergraduate/graduate advising, etc.”

While SPOT evaluations are only one form of evaluation, they can become an issue if misused, something Jennifer Lane, a division of vocal studios professor at the college of music said has happened before.

“In my opinion, student evaluations of teaching serve best when used to improve teaching through self-reflection, peer observation and honest face-to-face dialogue with students,” Lane said.

Despite some students misusing SPOT, Lane said the College of Music takes SPOT evaluations very seriously.

“Students may view themselves as customers and professors as vendors,” Lane said. “Professors often view themselves as scholarly intellectuals, scientists or artists and the students simply as students who have much to learn before they can function in the field, or in the case of undergraduates, the area of study. This is a cultural and generational issue in which many misunderstandings can occur.”

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Nina Quatrino

Nina Quatrino

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