Problematic anonymous student feedback on teachers

by Richard Lakeman, Deb Massey, Dima Nasrawi, Jann Fielden, Marie Hutchinson, Megan Lee, Rosanne Coutts, The Conversation

Credit: Shutterstock

Student assessments, in the form of anonymous online surveys, are ubiquitous in Australian universities. Most students in most courses have the opportunity to rate the “quality” of their teachers and the course they are taking.

The original intention of the student surveys was to help improve the learning experience. But now it has become much more. Student surveys are often the only measure of the quality of teaching (along with success rates). For speakers, positive reviews and comments are often necessary to ensure continued employment or promotion.

But these anonymous polls have also become a platform for defamatory, racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments against staff.

We surveyed 791 Australian academics from different universities about their experience with anonymous student reviews. The participating academics verbally shared some of the unconstructive comments students gave them. We have collected examples of these comments and published them in the journal. Assessment and evaluation in higher education.

We have grouped the comments into five main themes: dress, appearance and accent; allegations against character; general insults; blame projections; and threats or calls for punishment.

1. Dress, appearance and accent

Often the comments about appearance were gendered, misogynistic or racist with variations on being “too fat”, “ugly” and “old”.

One student wrote: “You look like something the cat has been dragging around. “

Another said: “People who [sic] mother tongue is not English should not be employed as speakers.

2. Claims against the character

They usually accused the lecturer of incompetence, racism or having negative attitudes towards the students: “She’s really rude, that’s why everyone hates her. You are a cultural Marxist, your awakening undermines everything you do. Not all of your students are left-wing jobs like you. You seriously need to lose weight.

3. General insults

Most of the slurs were clearly aimed at offending the teacher, and there was no pretension that the comments had anything to do with teaching, although the following was an exception: the funeral of the great- mother when we had a mission to accomplish? “

Aside from the variations on “I hate everything about you”, most of the slurs were a combination of unimaginative adjectives or name-calling, including “bitch”, “bitter”, “shit”, “the devil’s offspring. “,” The dick “,” the dog “,” “dinosaur”, “idiot”, “loser”, “mentally unstable”, “mole”, “nazi”, “needs to relax”, “out of control “,” Pathetic “,” psychotic “,” senile shit “,” smiling murderer “,” trash “,” unhappy “and” useless “.

4. Projections of blame

Most student assessment surveys are done before grades are released, but many students anticipated failure and blamed the teacher: “That fucking dyke bitch failed me, she’s useless, c that’s why I failed. “

5. Threats and punishments

Along with the projection of blame, there were threats or calls for punishment. Most often, these provided for the dismissal of the teacher, but also included much more severe measures:

“I would like to stick a broom in his ass.”

“She should be stabbed with a pitchfork.”

“If I was X, I would jump from the tallest building and kill myself if I was that stupid.”

Some have managed to combine themes to achieve maximum offensive:

“A stupid old witch needs a good fuck. “

“This bitch should be fired immediately. Why is someone so ugly allowed to teach? She better watch out, I never see her in the parking lot. She needs a better choice of fashion. His clothes are hideous.

The impacts are serious

An analysis of research on university student education ratings, published in March 2021, found that they were influenced by factors unrelated to the quality of education. These include the demographics of the students, as well as the culture and identity of the teacher. He also found that the reviews included increasingly abusive comments.

While most of the reviews might seem like playing field-level name calling, the impacts can be serious.

As part of our survey, we asked teachers how students’ anonymous reviews of their teaching affected their well-being, mental health, and professional and personal relationships. From our ongoing analysis of survey data (yet to be published), a profile emerges of a highly traumatized workforce. Early career academics, casual staff, women and minorities are disproportionately affected. Many seem to be triggered by each round of student assessment.

If Australian universities persist in using anonymous surveys, university professors can continue to expect to receive racist, misogynistic, defamatory comments, censorship threats and even death threats.

Even the Australian government is taking action against anonymous hate speech by announcing a social media trolling investigation. But universities still protect people who want to insult, defame, and make baseless accusations against others protected by a veil of anonymity.

Maybe it’s time to unmask anonymous online trolls in academia, or demand that students be potentially identifiable. The risk of being identified could at least reduce exposure to hate speech and increase civility in the halls of higher education.


Schools survey students to improve teaching. But many teachers find the feedback too difficult to apply


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