The Yale College Teaching and Learning Committee met for the first time Tuesday night to reevaluate the three-year-old Online Course Evaluation system, discussing changes such as enabling students to view evaluations throughout the semester, rather than just during shopping period.
Astronomy professor Charles Bailyn, who chairs the committee, said the University’s technical staff has already begun working on implementing alterations to the system to extend students access to the feedback generated by three of the evaluation’s questions year-round. The change will be completed by summer 2007, so that undergraduates can get a head start to learning about next term’s classes.
“There was a feeling that students really want that information beforehand,” Bailyn said. “[The previous limitation] wasn’t part of the original plan and has made the system less effective than it could be. It was definitely the number one student concern.”
Justin Baker ’07 said that although he thinks the format of the questions is effective and likes the overall evaluating system, the course feedback should be readily available to students.
“I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t have that information all the time,” he said.
Bailyn said that feedback is currently attached to the Online Course Selection Web site through which students create their schedules, but from next year on, it will instead be available through the Online Course Information portal, which is accessible throughout the semester. He said part of making that change possible includes adding increased security to the site, which he said is a surprisingly complicated undertaking.
The online system was approved by a faculty vote three and a half years ago to replace a simple pencil-and-paper evaluation process that Bailyn said was messy and ultimately not helpful for students, who did not receive any information about offered courses. He said he thinks the new system is effective because students seem to be taking it seriously and response rates typically top 80 percent.
“In general, people, particularly those who were around when the old system was in place, are pleased with the results,” Bailyn said. “The faculty feel like they’re getting better feedback and the students are getting some feedback, which is better than nothing.”
But some students said they still see flaws in the system that might never be resolved.
“I feel like most people are so relieved to be done with the course that they don’t usually write anything useful,” Jennica Best ’07 said. “Unless I have strong feelings about the class, I just fill in the answers quickly.”
Bailyn said his committee is thoroughly reviewing the system, partially based on suggestions solicited from faculty, administrators and students last spring. He said there are two categories of change: issues that were not specifically addressed in the original plan, such as extending feedback availability throughout the semester, and broader changes to the plan itself, which would require a vote from the faculty. The major issue regarding the second category of change is whether the correct groups of people, including students, teaching assistants, and faculty members, have access to each part of the evaluation, which Bailyn said is “fairly restricted” right now.
Bailyn said he is planning to appear before the faculty during its next meeting on Nov. 2, but the committee has not yet determined whether it will make recommendations for major changes or not. Regardless of what they decide, Bailyn said, the primary purpose of the evaluations — to “help faculty improve their own teaching” — will not change. All other uses, including improving course selection, are secondary, he said.
“We’re not changing the fundamental ideas behind this,” he said. “They still seem pretty sound to us. We’re just making sure that we’re asking the right questions and doing the right things with the questions.”