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Ontario university lowers value of SETs

Student evaluations of teaching (SETs) may no longer serve as measures of teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure at Ontario’s Ryerson University.

SETs may continue their use in the context or advancement decisions; however, they are no longer an acceptable quantitative metric in the decision-making process. The finding concludes the most effective way to evaluate teaching effectiveness is through analysis of teaching dossiers and in-class peer-evaluations.

The landmark ruling by an Ontario arbitrator brings the nine-year case between the Ryerson Faculty Association and Ryerson University to a close, establishing a potentially significant precedent for faculty associations across Canada.

As part of the ruling, the arbitrator orders that:

  • the Ryerson Faculty Association Collective Agreement be amended to ensure that SET results are not used in measuring teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure;
  • numerical rating system be replaced with an alphabetical one;
  • summary question of overall effectiveness be removed from the questionnaire;
  • parties ensure that administrators and committee members charged with evaluating faculty are educated in the inherent and systemic biases in SETs.

While the arbitrator acknowledges the value of SETs in understanding students’ experiences, as an empirical measure of teaching ability they are “imperfect at best and downright biased and unreliable at worst.” Evidence provided to support the ruling show the SET results are unduly impacted by several factors including the instructor’s race, gender, attractiveness and the course’s size and subject matter.

While many faculty across the country support the ruling, critics are raising several concerns such as potentially sending the message to students that their feedback is inconsequential.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations will be releasing a report in October 2018, further examining the use of SETs as reliable measures of teaching effectiveness.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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