Course evaluations, Spring 2017 edition

I just took a first look at my course evaluations for Spring 2017, and once again they show a striking pattern that has dogged me for several years. I often teach back-to-back sections of the same course, at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. It’s the same homework, same assignments, same in-class activities—but the course evaluations from the 8:00 AM class consistently come in lower than the 10:00 AM class. Our evaluations use a numerical system, a 1–5 Likert-type scale, and then means get reported back to us. What I’ll show you below is the difference between the 10:00 AM mean and the 8:00 AM mean.

Item Diff.
The course is well-organized. .40
The course textbook and other reading assignments are appropriate in content. .70
The course tests and other evaluations are appropriate in content and difficulty. .34
The course assignments are reasonable and appropriate in content and difficulty. .27
The course is demanding in comparison to other courses. .33
The course has increased my knowledge or understanding of the subject. .71
The course is excellent. .53
The overall class experience has enhanced my ability to think clearly, logically, independently, and critically. .58
The overall class experience has contributed to the development of my sense of personal values and moral integrity. .58
The professor shows interest and enthusiasm for teaching the course. .16
The professor is available outside of class for consultation if needed. .06
The professor is prepared for class and makes good use of class time. .44
The professor presents course material in a clear and engaging manner. .71
The professor is an excellent teacher. .53

Although I’ve seen this pattern for several years now, I still find it striking, and the magnitude of difference on some of these items—remember, it’s a scale of 1 to 5—continue to perplex me. I don’t think I’m that different at 8:00 AM compared to 10:00 AM. It’s particularly striking that the item about the textbooks and readings shows one of the highest differences, although these are identical for both sections and unaffected by my classroom demeanor/deportment and therefore independent of practice, adrenaline, mood, or any other such factors that might fluctuate over the hours I’m in class. Might there be a kind of halo effect here because of students’ general displeasure with having any 8:00 AM classes at all?

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