YCC surveys about teacher feedback

Next week, students will have a chance to grade their professors.

The Yale College Council is beginning an initiative to look at how professors give students feedback at the end of each semester, starting with a survey that the council will send to students early next week. YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 said he would like to see a pilot program on the Student Information Systems website that would allow professors to post comments along with grades.

“I think it’s fundamentally a question of what we seek to get out of our education,” Gordon said. “A grade is both a reward and a point of evaluation and self-improvement.”

If the survey suggests that students want more feedback on their academic performance, Gordon said he will reach out to department chairs and professors to get their support for the SIS program. Gordon added that he believes the program would initially be most easily implemented in seminars, as many seminar professors already know students well enough to provide individual feedback at the end of a course.

Any plan would be optional for professors, but would encourage them to give holistic feedback, Gordon said. As it stands now, students must actively seek out their professors at the end of a semester to receive advice related to their class performance. Most students never pick up their graded final projects at the end of the semester.

But David Watts, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Anthropology, said he does not think any single model for giving feedback would be effective, since courses differ in size and structure. In large classes, professors often do not have time to give each student thorough feedback at the end of the semester, he said.

“I think that it’s difficult for many students to understand that even professors who indeed care about them as individuals face tremendous time pressures that really constrain our ability to give them any substantial personalized feedback,” he said.

Other professors said they try to provide students with feedback, but often write comments that students never see.

Jennifer Klein, director of undergraduate studies for the History Department, said she and her colleagues write feedback on the final essays for their seminars, but few students return to her office at the beginning of the next semester to collect their papers.

“I’ve got stacks of seminar papers sitting here with extensive comments on them,” she said.

Part of the problem, she said, is that there is no easy way to make the papers available to students.

Only two out of eight students interviewed said they typically go get their final papers or exams after the end of the semester.

Jordan Greenblatt ’11 said he usually makes a point of retrieving his work at the end of the semester, though he added that an online system like the one proposed by the YCC might help more students get feedback.

“If you seek it out, professors are pretty good about giving you feedback, but I don’t think many students know feedback is out there,” he said.

Among those who said they do not get their final projects back, five mentioned the hassle involved in recovering their work, adding that professors sometimes do not respond to e-mails from students who want to pick up their work.

Hannah Gelbort ’13 said she feels guilty that she does not usually pick up her final work, since she is missing out on a chance to learn more and improve.

“I feel like it’s already over though, so why bother,” she said. She added that if there were an easier way to get feedback at the end of the semester, she would be very interested.

Professors said they think the problem of limited feedback could be solved if both students and teachers took more initiative to engage in a dialogue. Classics Department chairwoman Christina Kraus said she thinks a computer system that allowed professors or teaching assistants to give comments along with final grades online could be beneficial.

“I don’t see why not,” she said. “The more communication, the better.”

As for adding features to the SIS website, Associate Registrar Daria Vander Veer ’87 said the current system of uploading grades is quite simple, but adding other features could raise many questions. For example, it is unclear where the professors’ feedback would be stored, who would have access to it and what format it would be in.

The Registrar’s Office already oversees a system that allows professors to relay comments to students through residential college deans during the semester, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said, but professors send feedback only about students who stand out either in a positive or negative way.

Jeff Gordon said the impetus for the project came from a suggestion that the YCC got from a student via e-mail.

“It resonated as a problem that we have all experienced,” he said.

All spring grades are due one week after finals period concludes, except for senior grades, which are due two days after the last exam.

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