Massaging the feedback

December 12, 2013

I note that a number of articles and opinion pieces in THE in recent months have dealt with the value (or lack thereof) of student feedback/evaluation questionnaires.

Many years ago, I learned how best to massage such returns: take over a course for a short period for a colleague on sabbatical, preferably at an entirely different university (students’ unfamiliarity with the lecturer limits their risks and offers some variety in their lives); try to ensure that the course ends just before the Christmas holidays and closes with a “fun” question-and-answer session (ensure there are prizes – I offered organic beer and wine…oh, and chocolates); and, vitally, make friends with the departmental secretary.

When the automated, machine-read evaluation returns came back, I received the highest rating ever recorded in the department: 99 per cent. But there was one outlier – for one student all the marks were in the opposite direction. The sensible departmental secretary reasoned something that the machine couldn’t: the student evidently had misinterpreted the rating scale, so she reversed it. Ergo, 100 per cent for yours truly. (Make sure the secretary gets a Christmas present, too!)

Ron Iphofen
La Rochelle, France

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