In this Editorial, we stay committed to the objective of the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice regarding sharing, evaluating, and developing stronger evidence-based practice papers by focusing on the topic of national and institutional student evaluations. We create an important theoretical and practical foundation for authors considering publishing with our Journal on studies that utilise student surveys as their primary method of data collection. The editorial begins by providing a comprehensive overview of the history and emergence of student evaluations dating back to medieval times, we trace the evolution of student evaluations to present day looking at the rationale behind the induction of such tools. Following this, we discuss the validity of student evaluations through an exploration of factors such as student satisfaction, the timing of when student surveys are administered, and the idiosyncrasies regarding paper-based and online evaluations. We then further discuss the reliability of student evaluations by contextualising what student evaluations do not say and uncover how various forms of bias can influence the ways student evaluations are both completed and interpreted. Through this we assert that due to confounding factors of bias that influence the results of student evaluations, they cannot always be thought of as wholly objective data collection tools. This then leads into our discussion of the contemporary social contexts within which student evaluations are situated and how both micro and macro dynamics influence student experiences of teaching and learning, where we contest that broader external factors experienced by students can skew the ways teaching is both perceived and evaluated. We conclude our Editorial by critically envisioning a new direction for future manuscript submissions to our Journal. We assert that although the use of student evaluations as evidence of teaching practice may be inherently flawed, there nonetheless remains merit in their use following critical and reflexive engagement throughout the research process. As such, we are hopeful that our critical review of student evaluation-based scholarship may be utilised to leverage higher quality research output.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Student evaluations are often used as primary tools of data collection to offer significant findings pertaining to student experiences of teaching, yet studies have shown that data produced in such a way can have issues with validity, reliability, and bias.

  2. Broadly speaking, researchers who utilise evidence drawn from student evaluations of teaching in their SOTL publications tend to so without critiquing these tools.

  3. Although the use of student evaluations as evidence of teaching practice may be flawed, there remains merit in their use considering that critical and reflexive engagement is observed throughout the research process.

  4. Remaining methodologically reflexive and explicitly acknowledging confounding factors throughout the data analysis procedure can help to directly address complexities involved as well as enhance future research trajectories for others.

  5. JUTLP invites contributions that deconstruct the ways student surveys are used within SoTL while exploring ways to respond to these challenges.