“He just teaches whatever he thinks is important”: Analysis of comments in student evaluations of teaching

Nursing Inquiry 28 (3):e12411 (2021)
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Abstract

Student evaluations of teaching are ubiquitous in higher education; however, most prior research has focused on the numeric ratings, with little systematic attention given to the qualitative comments. In this study, written comments were collected as part of the regular evaluation of a community health nursing course over four semesters. Taken as a whole, student comments were strikingly consistent and mostly negative. Students emphasized the authority of the textbook and framed the course as preparation for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Instructor efforts to focus on critical analysis of social issues were met with confusion, suspicion, and resistance. Student comments were further analyzed in relation to 3 levels of discourse: the student/teacher level, the nursing‐education level, and the social–historical level. For each level, the comments reveal problems, but not the ones suggested by a conventional reading of student evaluations. If students and teachers have conflicting expectations about goals and methods for learning, formal student evaluations may be less useful as a measure of teaching effectiveness. This study also raises troubling concerns about current practices in nursing pedagogy, particularly the emphasis on standardized testing and highly structured didactics, and the overlap between student evaluation systems and the technologies of neoliberalism.

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