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More insight on Student Ratings of Instruction

Students continue to rate faculty favorably, but some weaknesses emerge.

By Shaun Schafer, Ph.D.

February 23, 2021

Masked student and instructor during pastry baking class in MSU Denver's Hospitality Learning Center.2020 marked a new high for average Student Ratings of Instruction scores across the University, and while fall 2020 average scores beat fall 2019 averages, they were lower than spring 2020.

“I believe students were giving faculty a lot of grace during spring 2020 due to the emergency move to remote teaching,” said Katia Campbell, Ph.D., Faculty Senate president. “Additionally, there were likely reciprocal responses (reflected in the higher SRI scores) from students toward faculty members who were flexible and accommodating with assignments and time requirements.”

SRI scores for the year on the question of the instructor’s contribution to the course averaged 5.204, one-thousandth of a point higher than the previous high set in 2015. It was also above the average of 5.16 for the years since MSU Denver went to two standardized questions for all student evaluations of faculty in 2012.

While the average for the year ran contrary to concerns that SRI scores would drop due to the pandemic-induced switch to online instruction, the scores from fall 2020 slipped from spring 2020 and showed some differences based on faculty rank and academic discipline.

“Fall 2020 SRI scores dropped slightly for a number of reasons,” Campbell said. “Faculty were still getting used to a new LMS (learning-management system) that may have impacted course design and organization; students probably had higher expectations of faculty since we were no longer responding to an immediate emergency; and students and faculty both might have already been experiencing the beginning of ‘Covid fatigue.’

“I can understand how mood and energy levels might influence how students evaluated their professors and classes.”

Affiliate professors, whose average scores in spring 2020 were slightly lower than the average for previous springs, saw their SRI scores average 5.125 for fall 2020. That was higher than the fall average of 5.08 for the previous nine years and the highest score recorded for affiliates in fall since 2015.

Assistant professors’ average of 5.3 was up from 5.28 in fall 2019, higher than the fall nine-year average of 5.19 and higher than any fall since the current SRI questions were introduced in 2012.

Associate professors received average SRI scores of 5.22 for fall 2020, which was identical to fall 2019 but below the nine-year average of 5.26. The average score for full professors was 5.17, down from 5.25 in fall 2019 and below the fall average of 5.21.

While average SRI scores improved in all disciplines in spring 2020, there was some volatility by discipline for the year and in fall 2020. For this research, 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.

“Overall, it makes sense that we would see differences in SRIs between disciplines based on the ability and adaptability of those disciplines to a predominantly online teaching environment,” Campbell said. “For instance, and I’m just guessing here, I can see why Communication might receive lower scores because for many of the departments with a focus on communication, students and teachers alike thrive in face-to-face learning environments where open discussion and interaction occur spontaneously and in real time.” 

For fall 2020, five of the categories were up over previous fall averages, and three slipped lower. Hospitality set an all-time high for any area with a nearly 5.42 average SRI score in fall 2020. Communication, Education and Health were each down slightly from the previous fall. Communication’s average of 5.19 was down from its overall annual average of 5.21.

For the year, all eight categories were higher than the average for the nine years of data. All except Communication were higher than they had been the previous year. Communication recorded a record high of 5.286 in 2019 and an average of 5.258 for 2020. In this research, Communication included Communication Studies, English, Journalism and Media Production, and Modern Languages. The prefixes were grouped in these larger disciplines to prevent singling out individual instructors.

Topics: Academics, Excellence, Student Success

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