Here's Stanley Fish on assessing an educational experience when you're on the receiving end of it:
[W]hen, as a student, I exit from a class or even from an entire course, it may be years before I know whether I got my money's worth, and that goes both ways. A course I absolutely loved may turn out be worthless because the instructor substituted wit and showmanship for an explanation of basic concepts. And a course that left me feeling confused and convinced I had learned very little might turn out to have planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.
He goes on to say that in the evaluation of teaching 'deferred judgment' or 'judgment in the fullness of time' seems to be appropriate, and on these grounds to express his opposition to student evaluations as a way of assessing teaching performance.
Well, why is it that though there's some truth in what Fish says, his opposition to student evaluation is misconceived? I'd say it's because of the mode of advocacy I wrote about a few days ago: in which you 'tak[e] some straightforward and unobjectionable proposition and then exaggerat[e] it to the point of absurdity'. There's some truth in what Fish says; but he treats it as the sole or the whole truth on the matter. When I was in sixth form I knew who my best teachers were. I already knew it. I didn't have to wait five, 10 or more years to find out. How could this have been? It could have been because there are some things that even a student can tell. She may not yet know enough to understand all the subtleties of a challenging teaching method, but she does know something, and she knows more as she goes along. She can tell the difference between clarity and obscurity, between a love of the subject from her teachers and a dullness about it, between an enthusiasm for learning and an indifference towards the process and the students themselves, between a conscientious teacher and a lead-swinger, between an inspiring lecturer and a useless one. Like young children in need of protection, students also 'grow'; they don't start and finish as complete educational incompetents. So the valid conclusion from the partial truth in Fish's argument is that student evaluation shouldn't be the only element in assessing teaching performance within an educational institution. But it can play a part. (Via.)