It is a common practice at universities to have students complete end-of-term questionnaires about their courses and instructors. Sometimes called student evaluations of teaching (SETs) or student questionnaires on courses and teaching (SQCTs), these are often used to make decisions about faculty tenure and promotion without an appreciation of their limitations. These uestionnaires could be good for capturing the student experience, but responses are inherently influenced by factors outside of the professor's control, including the subject being taught, class size, and the professor's gender, race, or accent. Further, the comment sections in these anonymous questionnaires can and have been vehicles of harassment.
Ontario’s faculty understand the value of student feedback, but the manner in which this feedback is sought, and the ends to which it is used are problematic. The goal of student questionnaires should be to inform the understanding of the teaching and learning experience, not to punish faculty for their class size, instructional innovations, gender, or skin colour.
To consider these issues, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has set up a working group with experts in methodology, research ethics, and human rights. The group has been tasked with developing a deeper understanding of how student questionnaires are currently being used at Ontario's universities, defining the limitations of these questionnaires, and developing proposals for ensuring that these questionnaires are used appropriately. The working group is expected to release its report and recommendations later this year. What follows is a summary of the group’s findings so far.