Students at Fontys University of Applied Sciences get to give their teachers grades. And it really makes a difference to the teachers because from now on they must keep their average at a 7 or above, or risk being fired. Would it be a good idea to bring this in at Wageningen University and Van Hall Larenstein?
Plant cell biologist and Teacher of the Year in 2010:
‘It strikes me as dangerous to make this the main criterion in evaluating teachers. Of course, in education as elsewhere, ‘the customer is king', but you shouldn't take that too far. Students' views can provide a stimulus and a direction. But to dismiss a teacher on the basis of a poor evaluation would be going too far for me.'
Applied Animal Sciences VHL
‘A minimum score for teachers would certainly be a good plan. I myself have had a few teachers who really were not great. And what I thought was a great pity was that very good teachers had to be fired at one point. Why not select on the basis of quality in that case? One problem is that teachers who teach a difficult and dull subject will often score lower than those who teach fun subjects. That is a problem that it is difficult to compensate for, I think.'
student party VeSte:
‘VeSte has its doubts about giving students the final word in the evaluation of teachers. In a small group, one dissatisfied student can quickly have a big influence on the end result. But we would like to see some improvements to the present system. Now it is primarily student satisfaction that is tested, whereas you should also assess the quality of the teacher. What we do need to know is whether the university really uses the student evaluations to improve the teaching. So it is very important for students to carry on filling in the evaluation forms.'
student of Garden and Landscape Design, VHL Velp:
‘Student evaluations should be given much more weight in the performance evaluations of teachers, but whether they should be given the greatest weighting is of course another question. After all, a student's opinion of a teacher does not always have anything to do with the teacher's qualities in the classroom. But if it ever comes to this, then I am in favour of equal treatment between teachers and students. As long as students can get a 5.5, the same should go for the teachers of course!'
student member of participational council (MR) at VHL:
‘I do think teachers should be evaluated according to measurable criteria, such as giving grades in good time. But you should tread carefully with the subjective, non-measurable side of the story. If a teacher happens to make an unpopular but necessary decision, there is a big chance of suddenly getting a much low grade. By the same token, teachers who are not very good at teaching but are popular with the students could easily get grades they don't deserve.'
Pascal ten Have
chair of the National Students' Union:
‘Some courses are just not fun, they are difficult and you have to work hard to pass them. If the teacher then gets a low grade, you cannot hold that against them. But of course the plan is a step in the right direction.'(HOP)
director Education Institute:
‘As a general rule I notice that the evaluations are taken seriously. They are used to really improve the teaching, and that is their role, for me. In the tenure track procedure, teacher evaluations and course evaluations do play a role, by the way, but in my experience the committees that discuss the candidates are rightly cautious in their use of them. In short, the simplistic Fontys 7 benchmark is not something we want.'
First year, Forest and nature Management, VHL
‘Good idea, that would be in the students' interests in any case. I've only been on my programme a month and in that time I haven't come across any teachers who don't make the grade. But at my secondary school there were a couple of teachers I would have liked to send to the management for a talking-to.'
Associate professor at the Resource Ecology Group:
‘Evaluations can be a useful means of improving education, as long as they are set up with explicit aims and are only used to those ends, are clearly explained when they are filled in, are statistically conclusive, and are not filled in anonymously. The current WU evaluation system does not meet these criteria. It is certainly bizarre to treat evaluations of the content or setup of a course as an examination result for a teacher.'
Li Shengle (China)
second year, MSc Food Technology :
‘I don't think it's a good idea. I think it is difficult to put together a really effective and objective system. Evaluations in China are roughly similar in content to those here in Wageningen. Most students don't take them seriously though, and just give a 7 or an 8, even for the most useless teacher. That's because we don't believe our opinions make any different. Teachers, especially those with many years of experience, are not at all open to criticism and are quick to take offense. Students know this, so they are less motivated to fill in the evaluation forms. What is more, students are apathetic. Some think that as long as they pass their exam, it is no longer their business how the course could be improved the next year. They just don't want to spend time on something they consider ‘irrelevant'.
Marie Fidjeland (Norway),
Master's in Landscape Architecture
‘Evaluations are important for teachers so they can improve. But I think firing them is very drastic. After all, students can allow their evaluations to be affected by someone's personality, whereas that is a separate issue. What is more, it could make teachers tend to try to make themselves popular, whereas they should really be critical. I have only been in Wageningen a month, but my first impression of the teachers is good. They are just as relaxed and informal as in Norway. I was afraid it would be more German-style: strict and hierarchical.'