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How Covid-19 has affected Student Ratings of Instruction

Students rated their instructors more positively in the first pandemic semester.

By Shaun Schafer, Ph.D.

January 26, 2021

MSU Denver signThe abrupt move to online-only instruction last March created a host of concerns about teaching and learning, such as whether students would show up, whether they would learn and whether the classroom environment would translate to a video screen.

After the initial shock of the move wore off, a new series of concerns arose that this move to online learning would damage how students evaluate their instructors and how that would be reflected in Student Ratings of Instruction scores. The concerns about the damage to SRIs were expressed in Academic Affairs meetings, in Faculty Senate meetings and in the numerous exchanges that occurred online during the pandemic. Those concerns are summarized as follows:

  • SRIs will drop because of the sudden shift in instructional methodology. The shocking change, which caught everyone off-guard, could be especially difficult for faculty members who had not taught any or many online courses.
  • SRIs will drop more for less experienced instructors, the very ones most likely to need favorable ratings to stay on track for retention or tenure. Their inexperience in the classroom might be doubly punished by the abrupt change in instructional methods.
  • SRIs will drop in particular for faculty members teaching in the Arts and Humanities, as these areas demand more community development in a classroom and more grading time for the writing or other creative work required. These courses are more likely to have been taught in a face-to-face-only mode prior to the pandemic.

Thanks to a history of asking the same two questions in the SRIs for all courses, it was possible to see if scores would reflect these concerns. After the spring 2020 SRIs were reviewed, fears of students reacting negatively to moving online in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of a semester proved to be unfounded.

Rather than SRI scores dropping, they rose during the semester that was interrupted by Covid-19 and the change to online teaching. The overall mean for the spring semesters from 2012-19 was 5.174. For spring 2020, the overall mean rose to 5.262, the highest average recorded.

Concerns about instructors earlier in their tenure track suffering also appeared to be incorrect. Assistant professors, who tend to have shorter experience in the classroom, produced an average score of 5.37 for spring 2020, the highest score that faculty rank has produced in a semester. The average score for assistant professors in spring from 2012-19 was 5.15.

Associate professors and full professors also saw their average scores reach their highest marks last spring, outpacing previous springs. Associate professors averaged 5.35 for spring 2020, compared with an average of 5.22 for previous springs. Professors averaged 5.34 for spring 2020, compared with a previous average of 5.15.

Because of their position on the tenure track, it is easier to make observations about the academic ranks of professors. Ranks for affiliate professors, lecturers and senior lecturers are less clear. An affiliate professor could be a newcomer or a 25-year veteran faculty member. Lecturers may be working on year-to-year contracts but could have been at the institution for many years. Senior lecturers could have been at the institution for one or many multiple-year contracts.

Affiliate professors were the only group that did not see an improvement relative to previous spring semesters. Affiliate professors averaged 5.13, down from their previous spring average of 5.18. Lecturers averaged 5.39 for spring, compared with 5.31 previously. Senior lecturers averaged 5.37, compared with 5.29 previously.

We also did not see any decline in scores relative to subject matter. For this examination, the 114 course prefixes at MSU Denver were placed into one of eight categories: Arts and Humanities, Business, Communication, Education, Health, Hospitality, Natural and Physical Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. SRI scores in every category were higher in spring 2020 than in the fall semester, the previous spring semester and the average for spring semesters from 2012-19.

So this quick look at how students evaluated instructors last spring found that worst fears did not come to pass during a turbulent semester. Without comments from students, it is difficult to say why scores improved, but it is reassuring that SRI scores did not drop because of a pandemic-born flip to online instruction. However, as data from fall 2020 comes available in the next few weeks, we will have a better picture of whether the improved scores were a part of a larger trend.

Topics: Academics

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