Evaluation 101: What higher education institutions should consider when evaluating professors

July 12, 2023 Watermark Insights

  1. Why is faculty evaluation necessary?
  2. Setting goals for instructor evaluation
  3. Examples of Instructor Evaluation Questions
  4. How to Evaluate the Feedback Professors Receive
  5. Improving Student Evaluation Accuracy and Reliability
  6. How Watermark Faculty Success streamlines instructor evaluations
  7. See the bigger campus picture with Watermark

Teaching is an art that's difficult to master, which means that feedback is essential to help your faculty members grow. Professor performance evaluations give instructors insight directly from students to improve teaching ability and reach students more effectively. In addition to invaluable feedback, professor evaluations help hold your campus staff to a higher degree of accountability and keep employees committed to honing their skills.

Why is faculty evaluation necessary?

Why is faculty evaluation necessary?

Instructor evaluation is essential for ensuring continuous improvement in teaching methods. Teacher effectiveness refers to a teacher's ability to improve their educational impact through testing, comprehension, and more. 

The five points of teacher effectiveness, which outline the criteria for effective instruction, should be at the core of any well-developed professor or course evaluation. These points include:

  1. Expectations: Instructors should hold their students to high standards on test-based and alternative growth measures, assisting as needed to help students meet those expectations.
  2. Student outcomes: Lecturers should contribute to positive academic and behavioral outcomes for students, including but not limited to regular attendance, self-efficacy, cooperative behavior, and on-time graduation.
  3. Student engagement: An effective professor uses diverse resources to create engaging lessons, effectively monitor student progress, and adapt instruction as necessary to engage evolving student need.
  4. Commitment to values: Promoting values such as civic-mindedness and diversity in their classroom contributions helps instructors maximize their educational impact, making their courses more effective overall. 
  5. Collaboration: Effective professors closely collaborate with their department, administrators, and other education professionals in their field of study to ensure success for all students.

Evaluating specific faculty roles

Evaluating specific faculty roles

It's important to note the differences between the primary types of instructors in higher education, as their role will determine how best to evaluate their performance:

  • Lecturer: A lecturer primarily spends their time teaching classroom-based courses, usually in the form of longer lectures.
  • Professor: Professors are at the highest level of an institution's academic staff, often balancing both classroom teaching and independent research within their field.

Both lecturers and professors can be types of instructors, as they both instruct students in classes. However, because each teaching role serves different purposes in your institution, it follows that you should evaluate them differently. 

For example, a lecturer evaluation should focus primarily on how the instructor manages their classroom and conveys information to their students during lessons. 

A professor evaluation, on the other hand, should include how their research plays into their classroom teaching methods. Or, if they offer opportunities for students to collaborate on research projects, you could adjust your evaluations to assess those opportunities.

Examples of instructor evaluation questions

Suggested categories and criteria to evaluate a professor's teaching

Thoroughly evaluating a professor's teaching effectiveness requires approaching their classroom from many different angles. 

Student evaluations of professors are one aspect of a holistic evaluation process and your administration should use them in conjunction with observations, grades, student success, and more. It's important to remember that all professors have room for improvement, and feedback is required to improve teaching ability.

Versatile college professor evaluation criteria are invaluable for professors across multiple disciplines, subjects, and departments. 

Watermark recommends using the following evaluation categories and criteria as an instructor evaluation checklist for a holistic view of your professor's teaching abilities:

1. Knowledge and enthusiasm for subject matter

The most important element to instructor success is a wide base of knowledge and a healthy enthusiasm for the subject matter they teach. Consider asking students to rank the following statements regarding their professor's knowledge and enthusiasm for subject matter by acknowledging that the professor is or does the following things:

  • Is highly invested and enthusiastic about the course material they teach and convey a sense of excitement in the classroom
  • Understands the general principles of their discipline
  • Provides students with a clear overview of the discipline
  • Can sufficiently and accurately answer student questions regarding their discipline and subject of expertise
  • Bases curriculum and assignments around the most current developments in their field
  • Stays current on their field of study, actively seeks out new material, and/or participates in professional research
  • Shows continuous growth in their field of study and encourages students to pursue similar paths

2. Experience, skill, and creativity in the classroom

Effective instructors elevate their teaching abilities and experiential knowledge with skills and creativity in the classroom. A good professor should:

  • Outline and effectively present the required materials, techniques, and skills needed to succeed.
  • Clearly outline key course concepts and techniques in an organized manner.
  • Encourage critical thinking by asking interesting, pressing, and challenging questions.
  • Encourage active learning strategies in the classroom.
  • Persistently monitor student progress toward learning goals in a variety of creative ways.
  • Recognize and reach out to students having academic difficulties and offer assistance.

3. Clear student expectations and testing practices

Just as evaluating instructors is crucial to success, so is understanding how to best evaluate students. We recommend using the following metrics to gauge how well a professor lays out their student expectations and tests:

  • Clearly communicates class and assignment expectations
  • Clearly explains the writing expectations for the course Have clear standards of performance for course expectation
  • Increase overall student understanding of course concepts
  • Grades assignments fairly and in alignment with their expectations
  • Grades assignments within a reasonable time frame
  • Creates assignments consistent with the course's learning objectives
  • Gives clear and accurate feedback about student performance on assignments
  • Provides students with constructive criticism on projects and written assignments
  • Uses a range of tools to assess student learning

4. Professionalism in the classroom and beyond

Whether meeting for office hours, labs, or research, professionalism extends outside of the classroom. It's essential instructors respect students as individuals and do the following things:

  • Encourage the free pursuit of learning and academic freedom
  • Give consistent constructive feedback on assignments
  • Provide meaningful feedback for topics of research
  • Provide meaningful ongoing guidance on course materials
  • Answer students when questions arise concerning an assignment
  • Advise students with problems with course material
  • Identify students who are not well suited for the course and recommend alternative instruction or individualized learning approaches
  • Continuously embody their institution's code of conduct

5. Overall teaching effectiveness

There are several criteria all instructors must embody to be overall effective teachers:

  • Succeeds in creating an environment conducive to learning
  • Is actively concerned with student progress and learning
  • Is well prepared for every class session
  • Stimulates class interest in the topic at hand
  • Expects a high level of performance and makes it achievable
  • Is an overall effective instructor for the course's material

6. Open feedback section

In addition to the criteria you've outlined in professor surveys, give students open space to mention what they enjoyed most about the course and how they think it should improve. It's essential that students understand how to evaluate their professor respectfully and that this space is required to promote growth. Students should also understand that their responses are anonymous so they feel safe sharing their honest opinions.

How to evaluate the feedback professors receive

How to evaluate the feedback professors receive

As with any form of evaluation, the data professors glean from student evaluations can be a mixed bag. Students tend to evaluate a class subjectively based on their personal enjoyment or success in the class rather than what they've learned, making it easy for less effective teachers to receive great professor evaluations and good teachers to receive bad professor evaluations. While evaluating student surveys and analyzing trends, it's essential to remember the following:

  • Grading: Studies have shown professors who give higher grades tend to receive better evaluations. This factor may motivate some professors to inflate or curve their grades and puts student ratings into question.
  • Course content: Students tend to evaluate professors based on how much they enjoy the course, especially when students dislike the work involved or lack the ability to meet challenges.
  • Demographic bias: Characteristics like race, gender, and age may contribute to how students rate their professors. For example, students are more likely to rank male professors higher than female professors, even when both teachers instruct the same course and evaluate students based on the same metrics. 
  • Personality: Students frequently prioritize a professor's personality in course evaluations, especially in the case of female instructors. Regardless of actual performance, professors who are extroverted, open, and agreeable tend to get the best ratings. Introverted, unapproachable, or disagreeable professors are more likely to receive the worst feedback. 
  • Discipline: Professors in certain academic fields tend to receive more positive reviews than in others. For example, students often rate humanities faculty more highly than their STEM counterparts simply because the course material was either more enjoyable or easier to grasp.

When trying to make sense of college instructor evaluations, several measures can help you gain more valuable insight. One approach is to base the reliability of the professor evaluations by prioritizing the responses of their top-performing students. Schools can also increase the value of student evaluations of college professors by administering them later in each student's career to see the true value of the class in retrospect.

How to evaluate the feedback professors receive

Improving student evaluation accuracy and reliability

There are effective approaches you can take to increase the integrity and constructiveness of the evaluations you receive. Consider the following measures to increase the validity of student evaluations of professors:

  • Consider student mid-course evaluations: If you're concerned about end-of-course evaluations, consider holding informal evaluations earlier into the course to see how each cohort of students is learning. The feedback from early course evaluations can allow lecturers to adjust their focus to the concepts students most struggle with.
  • Provide anonymity: While anonymity can be a double-edged sword, it lets students be honest without worrying about potential repercussions to their grades.
  • Increase student response rates: Instructors receive more accurate and reliable evaluations when all of their students complete end-of-course evaluations. Increase student participation by making them mandatory, sending reminder notifications, giving students bonus points, and even locking grades behind evaluations.
  • Encourage constructive criticism: Students are more likely to give fair and accurate evaluations when they understand that the department expects respectful and constructive criticisms.
  • Explain how student evaluations are used: Students provide better feedback when they realize department chairs and committees use feedback for promotions and tenure. Assure them the data they provide is valuable to the institution.
  • Have students recall specific examples: Reduce bias and false statements by having students use specific examples alongside their criticisms. Examples may include feedback on presentation styles, learning modules, course expectations, grading protocol, and more.

Survey and evaluation tools

Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys helps you use your student feedback to transform your campus and create more effective professors. We specifically designed our course evaluation and surveys solution to meet the demands of higher education and its unique challenges. 

Watermark course evaluation software comes with the following survey and instructor evaluation tools:

  • Create accessible survey options: The easier it is to access your surveys, the more likely it is that you'll receive the responses you need. Course Evaluations & Surveys allows respondents to complete surveys with whatever equipment they have, including smartphones and tablets. Our solution also offers options for multiple languages and general-purpose surveys, which may help you double your participation.
  • Incentivize responses: Professors can set up automated reminders and alerts on students' devices and even require students to complete surveys to unlock their grades.
  • Eliminate the need for data entry: Watermark enables instructors to say goodbye to hours of data entry, response chasing, and building reports by automatically compiling feedback in one centralized location. Professors and lecturers can view trends and analysis without the extra work, potentially saving your institution enough money to offset the software license costs and double response rates. 
  • Integrate with your existing technology: Our software integrates with major higher education learning management systems (LMS) including Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, and Moodle for rapid, seamless implementation in under one hour. With in-depth software integration, all your survey data can stay attached to the student, course, and faculty, and your response rates can rise to 80% or higher.
  • Allow student voices to influence faculty development: Seamless integration with Watermark Faculty Success lets you include student evaluation responses in annual review cycles, which can help you make more informed decisions regarding faculty hiring and progression.
  • Provide a 360-degree view of your institution: Intelligent analytics capabilities help you extract valuable insights from student surveys for better decision-making. Plus, our advanced reporting feature makes those insights accessible to all stakeholders by generating custom reports complete with rich visualizations and interactive dashboards. 
  • Offer a fast path to insights: Watermark takes the strain and guesswork out of survey collection with centralized and customizable evaluations. With our software, you'll minimize IT involvement, decentralize administration, and have an overall painless implementation. Improve feedback timeliness and get your evaluation insights to professors immediately after they're due with Watermark.

How Watermark Faculty Success streamlines instructor evaluations

Watermark professor evaluation tools are just one part of our transformative product suite. Our integrated solutions provide the process consistency and compliance assurance your institution needs for smooth, reliable instructor evaluations.

When you use Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys, your intelligence will gather straight into Faculty Success to inform you of new faculty reviews. This means that faculty accomplishments will be front and center to help you make decisions regarding hiring and career progression.

Our Faculty Success solution is easy to use and lets you pull student evaluations, articles, and CV data into a comprehensive dossier. The centralized, cloud-based system enables reviewers to access all digitized evaluation materials from one secure login. With Watermark, you can eliminate the need for endless physical evaluations and enable reviewers to access student evaluation materials quickly.

And unlike comparable software solutions, Faculty Success is highly configurable. Customizable reporting capabilities and intelligent search features allow you to pull only the data you need for any given review, so you can avoid spending hours sifting through all your records for a few specific data points.

Faculty Success also syncs directly to your institution's website. Any time a faculty member edits their profile through our solution, their web page will automatically update to reflect those changes. This time-saving feature is unique to Watermark, providing unmatched efficiency and ease.

See the bigger campus picture with Watermark

At Watermark, our solutions enable your administration to see how student evaluations play into your campus's bigger picture. Our goal is to help you get more accurate insights, increase evaluation responses, and greatly minimize the amount of time used on data entry. See the difference we can make for your professors and administration when you request a Watermark demo today.

See the bigger campus picture with Watermark

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