Campbell, E. (2022, Interviewer). The link between student evaluations and teachers’ mental health: podcast. Campus Review

Academics may experience a loss of enjoyment, depression and panic attacks when the cycle of teaching evaluations occur, mental health researchers have found. An interview with Associate Professor Richard Lakeman

Lakeman, R., Coutts, R., Hutchinson, M., Massey, D., Nasrawi, D., Fielden, J., & Lee, M. (2022). Playing the SET game: how teachers view the impact of student evaluation on the experience of teaching and learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-11.

Student evaluation of teaching (SET) has become a ubiquitous feature of higher education. The attainment and maintenance of positive SET is essential for most teaching staff to obtain and maintain tenure. It is not uncommon for teachers to receive offensive and non-constructive commentary unrelated to teaching quality. Regular exposure to SET contributes to stress and adversely impacts mental health and well-being. We surveyed Australian teaching academics in 2021, and in this paper, we explore the perceived impacts of SET on the teaching and learning experience, academic standards and quality. Many respondents perceived that SET contributes to an erosion of standards and inflation of grades. A thematic analysis of open-ended questions revealed potential mechanisms for these impacts. These include enabling a culture of incivility, elevating stress and anxiety in teaching staff, and pressure to change approaches to teaching and assessment to achieve the highest scores. Playing the SET game involves balancing a commitment to quality and standards with concessions to ensure optimal student satisfaction. Anonymous SET is overvalued, erodes standards and contributes to incivility. The process of SET needs urgent reform.

Lakeman, R., Coutts, R., Hutchinson, M., Massey, D., Nasrawi, D., Fielden, J., & Lee, M. (2022). Stress, distress, disorder and coping: the impact of anonymous student evaluation of teaching on the health of higher education teachers. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 47(8), 1489-1500.

Anonymous student evaluation of teaching (SET) is a universal practice in higher education. We conducted a mixed-methods approach to investigate the nature and impact of anonymous SET commentary in the Australian higher education sector. Respondents shared a range of detailed SET exemplars, which revealed the extent of hurtful, defamatory and abusive commentary made by students. This paper reports the self-perceived impact of these on the health and wellbeing of academics. The majority of respondents reported that anonymous narrative comments contributed to workplace stress. There were no significant differences for gender. Younger academics were more likely to report the process of SET as stressful. Four themes were identified from the narrative responses: stress, distress, disorder and coping. These themes highlight the mental distress and impacts on well-being from repeated exposure to uncivil commentary made in SET by students. This distress was exacerbated by the failure of many employing universities to take substantial action to remedy or limit exposure to uncivil behaviour. The current system of anonymous SET has little validity and instead may operate as a vehicle for unfettered incivility directed towards teaching staff. The mental health impacts are significant for some and may impact the recruitment, retention and renewal of academic teaching staff into the future.

Lee, M., Coutts, R., Fielden, J., Hutchinson, M., Lakeman, R., Mathisen, B., Nasrawi, D., & Phillips, N. (2021). Occupational stress in University academics in Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 44(1), 57-71.

Occupational stress has increased in higher education academic staff over several decades, and this has been particularly acute in Australia and New Zealand. This scoping review sought to understand the causes and impacts of occupational stress among Australian and New Zealand academics. Eight EBSCO databases were searched for key terms: academic and occupational stress and Australia and New Zealand. Twenty relevant papers were sourced, from which five common themes were extracted: (i) balancing an academic workload, (ii) casualisation of the workforce, (iii) the managerialism phenomenon, (iv) transition from field of practice to academia, and (v) academic and other staff. Further research in the Australian and New Zealand context is required to identify the nature of specific stressors and how these impact health and well-being.

Lakeman, R., Coutts, R., Hutchinson, M., Lee, M., Massey, D., Nasrawi, D., & Fielden, J. (2021). Appearance, insults, allegations, blame and threats: an analysis of anonymous non-constructive student evaluation of teaching in Australia. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-14.

Within higher education student evaluations of teaching (SET) are used to inform evaluations of performance of courses and teachers. An anonymous online survey was constructed and implemented using Qualtrics. This study was situated within a more extensive study investigating the impact of narrative SET comments on teaching quality and the health and wellbeing of academic staff. This paper reports specifically on two open questions that were designed to elicit examples of non-constructive and offensive anonymous narrative feedback. Five themes were identified: allegations; insults; comments about appearance, attire and accent; projections and blame; and threats and punishment. These are represented in non-redacted form. Personally destructive, defamatory, abusive and hurtful comments were commonly reported. These kinds of comments may have adverse consequences for the well-being of teaching staff, could contribute to occupational stress and in some cases could be considered libellous. The high prevalence of offensive comments accessible to and shared by teachers may be a reflection of the anonymity afforded to respondents using internet surveys, resulting in de-individuation and enabling some respondents to give voice to ‘hate speech’ which has no place in evaluations of teaching.

Lakeman, R., Massey, D., Nasrawi, D., Fielden, J., Lee., & Coutts, R. (2022). ‘Lose some weight’, ‘stupid old hag’: universities should no longer ask students for anonymous feedback on their teachers. The Conversation, January 10,

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

The original intention of student surveys was to help improve the learning experience. But it’s now become much more. Student surveys are often the only measure of teaching quality (along with pass rates). For lecturers, positive ratings and comments are often required to ensure continued employment or promotion.

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

Lee, M., Nawasrawi, D., Hutchinson, M., & Lakeman, R. (2021). Our uni teachers were already among the world’s most stressed. COVID and student feedback have just made things worse. The Conversation, July 19,

Australia’s higher education workforce has literally been decimated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass forced redundancies and non-renewal of casual contracts were highly stressful. And now some disciplines and academics who committed their lives to teaching feel publicly invalidated as unnecessary in the reconstruction of the sector to produce what the government deems to be “job-ready graduates”.

Our recent review finds academics in Australia and New Zealand were suffering high levels of occupational stress well before COVID-19. Recent upheavals only added to existing problems. This is likely to jeopardise recruitment and retention of staff even in the very areas, such as health, teaching and medicine, where the government expects high future demand…

Lakeman, R. (2022, Sep 7-9).The weaponisation of student evaluation of teaching: Implications for the education of mental health professionals. Presented at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) 46th International Mental Health Conference. Mental Health Nursing in a Climate of Change. Marriott Resort, Gold Coast, QLD

University students routinely rate and comment on teachers and their courses via anonymous surveys. A recent survey of around 800 university teaching staff in Australia found that many had received vitriolic and defamatory personalised commentary and catastrophic ratings from students (Lakeman et al., 2021). The impacts are profound. This ‘feedback’ affects people’s security of tenure, promotional prospects, mental health, and well-being and impedes the recruitment and retention of the best teaching staff (Lakeman et al., 2022). The drive to ingratiate students and elicit positive ratings leads to competition rather than collegiality, lowers academic standards and devalues the qualities and critical faculties needed in the mental health workforce. This presentation shares some examples of anonymous student ‘feedback’ and perceived impacts. Urgent reforms are needed to elicit feedback and enable students to have a ‘voice’. Developing a competent, therapeutic mental health workforce requires focused and renewed efforts to inculcate all mental health professionals with the capacity and competency to give and receive critical, insightful, meaningful, respectful and civil feedback.

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