Misrepresentations on course evaluations

Who would have thought?

Students Found to Lie on Course Evaluations


A new study of students at the University of Northern Iowa and Southeastern Oklahoma University has found that about one-third of students said that they had been untruthful on faculty evaluations they submit at the end of courses, The Des Moines Register reported. While students admitted to fudging the truth both to bolster professors they liked and to bring down those they disliked, the latter kind of fabrication was more common.


15 thoughts on “Misrepresentations on course evaluations

  1. So what else is new? I’m old enough to have been an undergraduate before course evaluations. I never missed them. And I don’t see that they have served any useful purpose.

  2. The Des Moines article lists some examples of vicious comments, but it doesn’t list a single example of the sorts of things students actually lie about. Anyone have some insight?

  3. I’ve seen course evaluation comments that are false and so could be lies; e.g., comments about lateness, preparedness, grading fairness, course organization, assignments.

    “The professor was very disorganized and we never got enough time to prepare for tests,” when there was a prepared syllabus which was followed.

  4. I’ve seen all jj’s seen. In addition students misrepresent the grade they expect for the course and the amount of time they study for it–questions on our course evals.

    Remarks about instructors being ‘disorganized’ are a real catch-all. I used to get comments about being ‘disorganized’ when I not only had a clear syllabus and schedule of readings, which I stuck to, but organized my lectures in sonata allegro form. I’m a compete neat freak and my hobby is organizing. I finally realized what it was: they were picking up on my appearance. Serious. By ‘disorganized’ students at my (Southern California, ultra-appearance-conscious) university MEAN ‘not well-groomed.’

  5. The most frequent one I get when I teach writing is “There was a paper due every week” when in fact over the course the semester, there were no more than five papers due, and often fewer.

  6. When I taught a huge (250 student) intro feminism course that lots of 1st years took just because it fit their timetable, I got a significant number of comments like “I get so sick of you saying all men are oppressors”. (Readers of this blog will know exactly how unlikely anything like that is coming from me! I’m the one many take to be overly soft-hearted.)

    Then I started wearing a skirt and lipstick as an experiment and those comments disappeared. Apparently I looked like a feminist before, so must be saying those things they “knew” feminists say. Looking different from that was enough to make them bother to listen.

  7. Nicely done, Jender! With very telling results…albeit disappointing to learn how truly shallow some students are. Wonder where they learn that?

  8. As a student not a teacher this just sounds like a bit of bad blood from people who would rather not be evaluated but the fact is that students are consumers of education and have a right to give feedback about the service they receive. I have certainly given bad evaluations of lecturers who I felt performed badly many of whom i liked quite a lot on a personal level.

    If there are outright lies about more coursework than there actually is etc then that is easily disproved and not worth worrying about; but these lies surely still came from a place of not engaging with or gaining from the course on offer.

  9. Elysia, just for the record, I reckon that if I get a fair number of negative comments, then I need to assume I have a problem and that it might well be that there’s a disengagement of the students that is my fault.

    But we really can’t generalize here. Do notice that the students actually say that they are not telling the truth – in the study done. So they know there are 5 papers, but say one was required every week.

    More importantly, in my opinion, it is also the case that evaluations may changet change the motivations and dynamics a lot. There is a great deal to be said in favor of learning despite the fact that the course was not fun and the prof was not clear. Maybe the material couldn’t be made very clear.

  10. Elysia, YOU may be responsible and fair, but quite a few students aren’t. And ecause course evaluations are anonymous there’s no accountability.

    And when it comes to ‘the service they receive’ not all students are looking at academics. In addition to implicit bias, which has been discussed here, quite a number of students at my place sincerely believe that their instructors’ appearance, dress and grooming are vastly important. Some make this explicit on course evals–and I’ve gotten any number of comments that were plain insulting. Lots don’t make these comments but rate the instructor adversely BECAUSE she fails to meet their aesthetic standards–and that’s much worse because their evaluations can’t be written off: the numbers just go into the instructor’s total score. Or do you, like a number of students at my place, believe that part of what you’re paying for is professors that ‘look professional’?

    Appearance, dress and grooming are a big issue. For some of us, including me, achieving the image that students want is close to impossible. I dress up on the first day or two of class to establish myself, but I am so uncomfortable in the respectable professional rig that I can’t teach effectively. When I teach logic I gotta bounce around doing problems on the board and I can’t do that in high heels.

  11. In partial defense of student evaluations (from the claim that they don’t serve any useful purpose), I’ll say that have learned from mine on several occasions and have, I think, improved my teaching because of comments on them. (The numerical parts are harder to use one’s self, of course.) Obviously, it’s only a sub-set of all evaluations that are helpful like this, but some have been for me. I’d also suggest that it’s perfectly possible to have a clear, well-structured syllabus and stick to it and have a course be disorganized, or at least seem so to a novice, so I, at least, would want to be a bit slower to merely dismiss that remark. (It is possible that it’s just wrong, of course.)

  12. I guess the problem is knowing how to assess student evaluations. I think it’s only right that students have some kind of input into the course, and that they have some way of anonymously informing people if they are unhappy (bearing in mind that anonymity protects them from possible retribution). Student evaluations can be really helpful to the teacher, indicating problem areas and ways to improve the course. Where the problems arise, as far as I can see, is when the student evaluations feed into some process such as promotion, job applications, and so forth, and where that process is not sufficiently sensitive to the ways in which the evaluations may be distorted – e.g., by students consciously lying, or by implicit bias, etc.

  13. The point for me of the article is that it is another reason for thinking course evaluations are questionable tools of administrative assessment.

    Could I point out that I started out by talking about what in my experience could be lies. The startling thing is that students said they were lying. I don’t really advocate ignoring any negative comments, unless it is off the wall, which I have seen.

    HEB, I’m wondering if your university is one of those making the top 50 druggies schools. Some univ in SD is. That might also explain some things. The list may be in the NY Times or The Daily Beast.

  14. Just checked the Daily Beast. It’s San Diego State, which typically also comes in first or close in the ranking of party schools. Not my place. State is a zoo–part of the second-tier Cal State system. It’s a primitive meat market–Spring Break all year round.

    My place is isn’t more than usually druggie but just very, very appearance conscious. Some of the female students are terrifying–tall, slim, blonde, perfectly coiffed and made up, they wear high heels on campus and carry their stuff in huge fashion-totes (in zebra stripe plastic and other cute designs) instead of backpacks.

Comments are closed.