Professors weigh evaluations

Two months after the controversy surrounding Yale Bluebook Plus raised questions about Yale’s online course evaluations, faculty members have begun to discuss potential tweaks to the course evaluation process.

At Thursday’s Yale College faculty meeting, approximately 60 faculty members spoke in general terms about potential changes to the content and wording of the course evaluation system, according to Yale College Dean Mary Miller. Rather than debating specifics, professors used the meeting as an opportunity to “think out loud” on the issues, Miller said.

Prior to the meeting, the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee had already met with the directors of undergraduate studies and department chairs in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to solicit ideas about the evaluations, Miller said, adding that the committee will now convene to make specific recommendations for changes.

The University shut down Yale Bluebook Plus — a student-created website that let students easily sort classes by course and instructor evaluations — on the premise that the website had violated Yale’s online acceptable use policy. At the time, Miller told the News that the website also violated the spirit of the University’s long-standing agreement with the faculty to not let the quantitative component of instructor evaluations get in the way of a holistic assessment.

Still, Miller said faculty members at the Thursday faculty meeting voiced both support and opposition to the practice of using quantitative data in course evaluations.

“There are members of the faculty who would like to see more quantitative data assembled, and there are some who would like less,” Miller said.

Miller said it was hard to gauge whether more faculty leaned one way or another, noting that faculty members were not polled at the meeting.

Miller also said faculty members raised the idea of combining two of the questions on the course evaluation questionnaire into a single question. The proposal was to merge question one, which asks students to describe the strengths and weaknesses of a course, and question for, which asks students whether they would recommend a course to another student and is the only question to which students’ written answers are made publicly available.

At Thursday’s meeting, the faculty also approved a new track in quantitative biology within the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major, according to Doug Kankel, the department’s director of undergraduate studies. The department currently offers tracks in neurobiology and biotechnology, as well as standard and intensive tracks.

Kankel said the new track will start next year and will deal with issues associated with a “mathematical analysis of an array of biological problems.”

Based on current student interest, Kankel projected that the new track would see participation from about six students per class year — less than a 10th of the undergraduates majoring in MCDB.

The track will offer courses taught by the three current professors in the department who have an explicit interest in quantitative biology, Kankel said. All three professors were hired in the past eight years, he said, noting that quantitative biology is a field that has emerged within biology over the past decade.

Chareeni Kurukulasuriya ’16, who majors in MCDB, said the new track is a “step in the right direction” and a welcome acknowledgement that there are many different ways to teach biology.

Both Kurukulasuriya and Mitchell Powell ’16, another MCDB major, suggested that the new track focus on computational modeling of biological problems, which Kurukulasuriya called a particularly employable skill.

“In the lab, they’re moving more towards using computers to model things like protein structure,” she said. “To be able to understand what the technology is doing and employ it — it’s a huge skill to have.”

Yale College faculty meetings take place on the first Thursday of every month.

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