Online course evaluations meet early success, prof says

In its first semester, Yale’s online course evaluation system processed approximately 24,000 evaluations, with the majority of students choosing to participate.

Charles Bailyn, chairman of the Yale College Committee on Teaching and Learning, said he was happy with the results thus far. According to Bailyn, 86 percent of Yale College students completed the evaluation, with only 3 percent declining the opportunity to rate their classes. The remaining evaluations were incomplete and will not be used, Bailyn said.

“I’m very pleased that the students took this as seriously as they did,” Bailyn said. “The response rate has been really great.”

The Yale faculty unanimously approved the Teaching and Learning Committee’s proposal for an online system in November. Last spring, the committee ran a pilot program to test the feasibility of online course evaluations.

The site asked students to fill out a six-question evaluation for each class, covering the course’s format, the instructor and the teaching assistants. The information from the evaluations will be made available to the instructor, chair and director of undergraduate studies of the department, as well as other Yale officials and committees. Beginning next fall, students will also be able to see a select portion of the evaluations when choosing their classes.

Bailyn said it was still premature to call the online evaluations a success because professors have not had the opportunity to see the feedback. The Teaching and Learning Committee is planning to distribute the evaluations to faculty members over the next week, he said.

Yale College Council Treasurer Andrew Klaber ’03 said the online evaluations are an improvement over the previous paper system.

“I think that students will see the fruits of their labor when they have a comprehensive resource to turn to,” Klaber said.

Klaber authored a YCC resolution last fall that supported the switch to online course evaluations.

Students said they were generally pleased with the new system for course evaluations.

“I thought it was very valuable,” Gus Fuldner ’04 said. “I think having more time to write thoughtful comments is probably more valuable for instructors.”

Some students and faculty members expressed initial concern about grades being withheld to force students to evaluate their classes. The site, however, allowed students the option of skipping the evaluations and going straight to their grades.

Terence Chiu ’04 said he appreciated the choice to opt out of the evaluations, though he did not take advantage of it.

“I think it’s pretty fair that you could choose not to answer the questions,” Terence Chiu ’04 said.

Fuldner said forcing students to fill out evaluations could haved resulted in inaccurate feedback from students who were angry or overly eager to see their grades.

Bailyn said in future semesters, the Teaching and Learning Committee will simplify the process by allowing professors to see their evaluations online, rather than waiting for them to be processed and printed on paper. Bailyn said the committee would also consider feedback from students when trying to improve the site.

“The students sent in a variety of suggestions and we haven’t begun to digest it all,” Bailyn said.

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