Students as course evaluators

Chronicle of higher education on student roles in course evaluation

This Chronicle of Higher Education story is both welcome and disturbing. It is welcome because it credits students being intelligent enough to evaluate constructively what and how they are learning in classes.  So far so good.  But the rather breathless tone of this essay ignores the fact that the Tayloristic premises of higher education institutions as organizations has primarily created students as passive consumers of “education” rather than active partners in a process.  This reveals the native Fordist model that dominates and its associated “banking model”.

It is positive to have some student voices as being credited as worth hearing.  It is not very sensible to see this as a solution to much.  So long as the organizational structure make it appear innovative to include students and other stakeholders in the teaching/learning process, we are not getting anywhere.

And this piece takes no account of other key issues.  First, most teaching faculty are either on term contracts, part-time and cobbling together jobs, etc. The article evokes places where this is not the case.  Second, creating a collaborative teaching/learning environment is a fundamental pedagogical reorientation.  When it occurs by itself, as it did in my classes, the students report “whiplash” in moving between a class where they were valued partners and classes where they are filling seats in an auditorium or being lectured at in a so-called seminar.  Third, most higher ranked universities clearly take no account of the quality of or support for teaching quality.  Administrators want evaluations to control faculty and to polish their institutions’ public image.

At various times in my career, we had some coalitions of the willing who created a small space for this kind of teaching/learning and the results were breathtaking.  But they ran against the grain of the institution and could not survive.  My learning is that higher education cannot be half-reformed.  Incremental change is not going to work against such a consolidated structure. The value of the article is simply to show that you can learn from students and they can learn from the process of being valued as evaluators.  It is important but more is needed.

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