Student Perceptions of Effective Teaching Behaviors

George E. Stevens, Sheila A. Adams, Faith W. Stevens


"The most common performance appraisal device used in academia today is the student evaluation of teacher effectiveness. Typically, the student, near the completion of a course, fills out a standardized evaluation form for the teachers of the class in which h or she is enrolled. Evidence of the widespread use at teacher evaluation has been documented by a number of researchers (e.g., Lein & Merz, 1978; Peterson, Kerin & Martin, 1978). For example, in a study designed to identify the methods used for evaluation of business faculty, Lein and Merz (1978) received responses from 374 business schools. Although respondents indicated that they used various combinations of methods in evaluating business faculty, over 70 percent of the schools used some form of teacher evaluation by students. Not only are more schools using this method of assessing teacher effectiveness, many also use the results to make administrative decisions (e.g., faculty retention, promotion, salary and tenure). As usage of student evaluations of teacher performance has increased, so has the amount of literature reporting the uses and abuse of these devices (see, for example, Miller, 1978; and Miller, Brokaw, & Shaaban,1977). It is evident that there are both proponents and opponents of the use of student evaluations of teachers as input into personnel decisions. Most faculty members agree that these evaluations have value if used for faculty development purposes but are leery of their usage for other purposes. One reason for this concern is the many reliability and validity issues related to teacher evaluations--issues which have been investigated by a number of researchers. Researchers have discovered, for example, that many who construct such ratings are not sufficiently qualified to do so (Costin, Greenough & Menger, 1971). Furthermore, when colleague and supervisor ratings of teacher effectiveness were also obtained, low correlations were found between colleague or supervisor ratings and student ratings, other researchers (e.g., Rodin & Rodin, 1972) conclude that students are not able to judge teaching effectiveness. Many variables have been identified which influence student perceptions of teacher effectiveness. In many cases, either the teacher cannot control the variables or the variables may be difficult to measure. Studies undertaken include those examining student attributes such as student achievement (Banziger & Smith, 1978; Costin, et al., 1971), achievement factors (Banziger & Smith, 1978); personality traits (Warren & O’Connell, 1978) ; and sex of student examined including leader behavior or style (Swanson, 1975; Kinicki & Schriesheim, 1978; Baba & Ace, 1978), type of course, i.e., required vs. elective (Miller, 1978; Miller, et al. 1977), course content, i.e., nonquantitative, primarily conceptual such as organizational behavior and marketing to more quantitative, less conceptual such as finance and operations management (Neely & Schaffer, 1979), teacher demands (Sullivan & Skanes, 1974), class size (Miller, 1978; Miller, et al. , 1977), sex of teacher (Elmore & La Pointe, 1975; Wilson & Doyle, 1976), and teacher personality (Elmore & LaPointe, l975; Witty, 1947). Although full discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of this paper, the interested reader is directed to see reviews such as those of Costin, Greenough, & Manges (1971) or Sullivan & Skanes (1974). A recent study by two of the authors (Stevens & Marquette, 1979) examined differences between faculty and student ratings of the importance of teachers’ course- related traits. If differences do exist in terms of faculty and student ratings of teaching effectiveness, then the potential value of student evaluations may be severely limited. Cummings and Schwabs’ (1973) findings suggest that supervisors and subordinates tend not to agree as to the dimensions of the subordinate’s job and the relative importance of the job dimensions. Furthermore, Maier, Hoffman, Hoover & Read (1961) found substantial disagreement between managersubordinate pairs on the subordinate’s job duties and job requirements. One result of the Stevens and Marquette (1979) study was the finding that both students and faculty disagreed with the statement that they “used the same criteria to evaluate performance.†The researchers concluded that differences do exist between student and faculty perceptions of important teacher traits. That such differences do exist would seem to imply the need for caution in using the results of ratings in making personnel decisions. Beyond such a caveat, however, the question arises, do students themselves agree on the importance of course related teacher behaviors? Are there differences on the basis of the students’ sex when one examines a selected group of these teacher behaviors? What characteristics of teachers do students consider important to effective classroom instruction? In an attempt to answer these questions, the present study asked students to rate 17 traits commonly regarded as characteristics of effective teaching in courses where the teaching mode is predominantly lecture. "

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