EvaluationsInside Higher Ed. has recently reported that a rather interesting study on student learning conducted by a group of psychologists supports what most of us who have been teaching for any length of time already knew all along: student perception of learning and student learning are two different things:

The researchers asked two groups of students to sit through the same lecture delivered in radically different styles. When asked afterward how much they felt they had learned, those who had experienced the more accomplished performance believed they had learned more than the second group. However, when tested, there was little difference found between them, with those attending the “better” lecture barely outperforming their poorly taught peers.

So students think they’ve learned more when they’re taught by more charismatic instructors, but when tested, they really haven’t. They learn about the same as those taught by instructors with poor self-presentation skills. I would always encourage faculty to strengthen their presentation skills, of course, just to make the learning experience more enjoyable, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves about how much this really means in terms of student learning.

The implications here are twofold:

1. Student course evaluations by themselves are no measure of teacher effectiveness, but we already knew that.

2. The hottest new thing — MOOCs — used by themselves reinforce ineffective educational practices:

Mazur said that despite modern technological advances, universities had work to do to redesign their lecture halls and rethink their teaching methods. “What is really worrying is that people are jumping on the massive open online course bandwagon, taking a failed model and putting it online. We need to rethink how people approach teaching,” he said.

I don’t see much difference between a MOOC and a 400 seat lecture class, but there’s a lot of difference between a MOOC and a smaller class involving direct student/faculty interaction that is  heavy on instructor feedback, as the latter actually involves teaching and not just lecturing.

Now, let me share something even worse: high student course evaluations are negatively correlated with deep, long-term learning. In other words, when teachers engage in practices that help students retain what they’ve learned, they’re punished for it with low student evaluations according to this study:

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value-added and negatively correlated with follow-on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value-added in follow-on courses).

If you’re interested in the original report behind the IHE article, I’ve provided it below:

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3 thoughts on “Charismatic Teacher = High Evals, but not High Learning

  1. This is interesting. I like how it sheds light on the energy that is wasted trying to get good student evaluations (in order to keep your job) vs. sharing and practicing approaches to material and having students create responses to that material.

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