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I spent yesterday afternoon in a seminar discussing how my teaching can be analyzed for its effectiveness. One much used word is ‘appraisal’.   Students may recognize that as meaning those annoying questionnaires that get thrown in front of them in the last two minutes of the final lecture of the year, in which they need to answer questions on the content of the paper and the performance of the lecturer. There’s a vague implication that the university wants to know from its students how they feel about the teaching they have received, but it’s not often made clear.

It was very interesting to learn yesterday exactly how different lecturers use the appraisals.  Students might be in for a shock here. It depends very much on the lecturer.  Some lecturers carefully go through every form, pull out the major themes from student comments, think how they can improve and make changes for next year’s teaching.  Then, next year, they pick their appraisal questionnaire questions carefully so they can assess whether their changes have been effective.

But some lecturers do nothing with them (other than maybe check their overall score isn’t too bad.)   All that time the poor student has spent identifying three ways in which the lecturer could improve, etc - the lecturer may choose not even to read it, let alone do anything about it.

Also, something that struck me this morning, is that the appraisal questionnaires that we gave our students here at Waikato in 2009 are not very much different from those I had to fill out as a student in Cambridge in 1989.   Twenty years have passed since I first sat in lectures and, on the face of it, not much has actually changed in terms of how the quality of teaching is reviewed (or not).  I now wonder what happened to the forms I did back then - did anyone take notice?  

But there is actually, as I’m learning, a huge amount of research on how to evaluate your own teaching effectively.  So why do we seem to focus so much on those questionnaires?