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.
|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?