Professors unanimously approved a proposal at a faculty meeting Thursday to create an online course evaluation system.
Under the plan, students in Yale College courses that enroll more than five students will be required to fill out a six-question evaluation before they can see their grades online, said Charles Bailyn, chairman of the Yale College Teaching and Learning Committee.
The committee proposed the plan because of inadequacies involved with the current paper-based feedback system, Bailyn said.
“I think this is a really important first step,” he said. “There’s no more interesting document [to an instructor] than a carefully written statement.”
Under the proposal, responses to three questions will be available to the instructor of the course, chair and director of undergraduate studies of the department, as well as to officials and committees of Yale College. These questions will concern the overall assessment of the course, the instructor and the teaching assistants.
The responses to the other three questions will be made available to students in the online course information Web site next semester, Bailyn said. The questions include two numerical assessments of the course and workload, as well as a question about whether the student would recommend the course to others.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said it is important to have evaluations so faculty can evaluate teaching better and so students can make more educated choices about courses.
“It’s silly to have a paper evaluation in the electronic age,” Brodhead said.
Bailyn said last semester, the committee ran an online evaluation pilot program, which included several engineering courses and a biochemistry class. There was a 90 percent student participation rate and the instructors received responses that were much more detailed than those submitted on paper, Bailyn said.
Molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, a member of the Teaching and Learning Committee who participated in the pilot program, said the comments he received were extensive and helpful and said he hoped this would be true for all courses in the future.
“I honestly think it will change how every course at Yale is taught and every course at Yale is chosen,” Strobel said. “There has to be a cultural change with the way students think about evaluation. They have to buy in.”
Bailyn said comments received by professors in the pilot study were better when students thought carefully in a quiet moment rather than in the last five minutes of class, as is true under the current system. He said he hoped students would fill out the evaluations early, so the server does not get overloaded.
“If you are foaming the mouth to get that grade, that probably is not the best time,” Bailyn said.
He said the committee wanted to limit the number of numerical questions because the responses are meaningless and they lead to top-ten and bottom-ten lists.
“[We are] not going to give out averages,” Bailyn said. “We are going to show the whole distribution. We don’t want to list things.”
African American Studies and French professor Christopher L. Miller said the proposal changed the way evaluations are handled administratively because they are available online to the Yale administration and to various committees. Before, evaluations were available only through departments. Miller said there need to be protocols delineating who has access to the evaluations — a criticism he brought up in a Nov. 6 letter to the editor in the Yale Daily News.
“The technology makes it so easy that who ever is controlling the machine can decide who get access to it,” Miller said. “It’s a shift in departmental responsibility.”
Bailyn said although Miller did not attend the faculty meeting, Bailyn addressed the issues Miller raised in his letter.
“Good information is a curb on power, not a tool of power,” Bailyn said. “In this case, we will be piling up information available to faculty and available to students.”
Yale College Council President Andrew Allison said the YCC started to work with the Teaching and Learning Committee last January and worked with the committee to finalize the proposal. YCC passed a resolution Nov. 6 in favor of the faculty passing the proposal.