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decisions about merit increases, promotion, and tenure for faculty. A substantial body of research has concluded that administering questionnaires to students can be both valid and reliable, providing faculty and administrators with a wealth of knowledge about the attitudes, behavior, and values of students (Hinton, 1993). Advice on how to design, administer, and interpret evaluation forms can be found in Cashin (1990), Theall and Franklin (1990), Davis (1993), and Braskamp and Ory (1994).
Despite their widespread use, there is no clear consensus on the connection between students' learning and their rating of the instructor. Some studies suggest that student ratings of the instructor's teaching correlate somewhat with student learning (Marsh and Dunkin, 1992). However, Arons (1990) observes that many vacuous courses in science have been developed which students have rated highly, describing them as fun and exciting. Subsequent testing indicated that these students learned very little. This does not suggest that student perspectives are unimportant. However, before distributing the evaluation forms, many instructors tell students the purpose of the forms. When students know how the forms will be used, and are confident that their comments will be taken seriously, faculty are more likely to receive evaluations that can help them improve their teaching and their course.