On course evaluations, greater disclosure would be beneficial to students

To the Editor:

While the online course evaluation system has the potential to be a powerful resource in selecting classes, its effectiveness is limited in its current state. Here are a few simple suggestions for improving the system.

1. Display the answers to all the questions. Bar graphs provide little information — we want to see the comments people wrote, and for all the questions, not just “Would you recommend this class?” This is especially true for classes that aren’t either really good or really bad. When opinions are split, it’s the comments that will tell me if I will like the class. Also, if we know that our classmates are actually going to be able to read our comments, we’ll be more likely to do a thorough job on them.

2. Allow evaluations for all classes, not just those with five or more people. My best (and worst) classes have all had less than five undergraduates in them. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean that students and professors couldn’t benefit from an evaluation.

3. Have evaluations follow professors. As it is, if a class was not taught last year, or if a professor teaches a different class, we can’t access evaluation information. There’s no reason not to display the previous year’s reviews if the professor took a year off. And if the professor is teaching a different class, it would still be helpful to read what students wrote about him or her as a teacher.

4. Publish grad student evaluations when the grad student is acting as a professor. It’s almost impossible to make use of reviews for TAs who only lead discussion sections, but in classes like Math 120, where your TA is effectively your professor and TAs teach for several years, it’s really important to have some information when picking your section.

These suggestions are both simple and easy to implement, and would greatly improve the course evaluation system.

Catherine Izard ’06

Jan. 11, 2006

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