For a student, one of the last things on his or her mind when finishing up a semester is completing a mindful teacher evaluation. Michigan State University’s Student Instructional Rating System (SIRS) allows students to provide input toward assessing and improving course design and teaching performance; yet, students consistently say they’re time-consuming or assume professors don’t bother reading them. As a result, some students ignore them altogether.

A confidential SIRS formAccording to Kathy Petroni, Broad College of Business Deloitte/Michael Licata Professor of Accounting and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, these evaluations are critical indicators for the university in measuring student success, faculty effectiveness, and overall performance in delivering leading-edge curriculum.

For Petroni, it’s more personal, “as a Broad College alum, my passion for improving the student experience comes from my dedication to the undergraduate students. As a result, I am working hard to improve the student experience and clearly students’ evaluations of their classroom experiences is an important source of information for this initiative,” she said.

How does the college use the evaluations to improve or change? 

KP: The student evaluations are one factor considered by the chairperson in the raise process and in promotion decisions. In addition, the evaluations are used by chairpersons in developing the curriculum and teaching assignments.

After a student turns the evaluation in, what happens?

KP: The evaluations are done online and centrally maintained by MSU.  A few weeks after the end of the semester the faculty member, the chairperson of their department, and the Associate Dean get a link to the scores and comments.

The professor will review their scores and use the comments to make revisions to the course. The department chair will review scores and read comments for all classes in their department, and then the Associate Dean also has the ability to review them. I’ve decided that I am going to try to review as many as I can so I can use the information when considering how to enhance the students’ experiences at the Broad College, especially for the core Broad courses.

Kathy Petroni stands, working at her desk

Petroni thoughtfully reviews evaluations for herself, as well as Broad College faculty.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever read in an evaluation (of yourself, or a colleague)? 

KP: On my recent evaluations a student said the following: “she is completely rude to other races. I was in shock and complete disbelief when she said that it was okay if you didn’t do well on the first quiz because, ‘maybe you were sitting next to an Asian who you knew was smarter than you so you got nervous and didn’t do well.’ I’m sorry, but that is completely inappropriate for the dean of BROAD and a Professor to be saying in class.”

I feel badly that this student misunderstood a something I said. What actually happened was that I tried to explain studies that show test scores can be easily influenced by the testing environment, and the test-taker’s level of confidence. I talked about how research showed white students performed worse on math tests if there were Asians taking the test in the same room – and that this is apparently due to stereotypes, and the impact this has on confidence and therefore performance.

Of course, I feel badly that this student misunderstood the point of my story, and thought that I was saying that Asian students were smarter. I have discussed this research for years with my students, but and this is the first time a student shared a negative reaction to it.  When you teach a class of 300 students, chances are at least one student is going to misunderstand something.  I generally only seriously consider comments if more than a few students raise them but of course a comment like this is troublesome.