Why Self-Reported Evaluations Are Evil

Well, not quite. But this from Mazur is pretty depressing (though thoroughly expected if you read the literature on this sort of thing):

These are two concepts from physics, and as you can see the students who say they were confused on a concept score significantly higher than the students that say they are not confused.

As the Computing Ed summarizes Mazur’s lecture:

Third finding: Students praise teachers who give clear lectures, who reduce confusion. Student evaluations of teaching reward that clarity. Students prefer not to be confused.

Is that always a good thing? Mazur tried an on-line test on several topics, where he asked students a couple of hard questions (novel situations, things they hadn’t faced previously), and then a meta-question, “Did you know what you were doing on those questions?” Mazur and his colleagues then coded that last question for “confusion” or “no confusion,” and compared that to performance on the first two problems.

Confused students are far more likely to actually understand. It’s better for students to be confused, because it means that they’re trying to make sense of it all. I asked Mazur if he knew about the other direction: If a student says they know something, do they really? He said that they tried that experiment, and the answer is that students’ self-reported knowledge has no predictive ability for their actual performance. Students really don’t know if they understand something or not — their self-report is just noise.

You probably want to ask students if they felt a professor was fair, and treated them with respect. If they made themselves available, and returned work on time.

It’s pretty much useless to ask students how much they learned though. For that you need a pre and post test or a well-structured performance task.

As far as the marketing angle of whether the students *feel* like they are learning, I’d actually market it it the other way — show *them* the pre and post test results against a good comparator — teach them what real learning looks like. Or in the case they didn’t learn anything, what it *doesn’t* look like.

Learning is often not the sort of experience we often think it is, and helping students to understand the disorientation of truly pushing into new understanding is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

(via, as usual Downes)

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