I read with heady optimism this past Friday’s article on the unanimous faculty support for the creation of an online feedback and course critique system (“Faculty vote for online feedback,” 11/8). Let’s face it: the amount of reliable information on courses and professors at this university stinks. Sure, we have shopping period, but how many times have you gone to the supermarket with the intention of selecting four, five or six products on the basis of how they make you “feel”? You want substance! While other Ivies produce bibles that guide students through the selection period, the best critique we can put together is a subpar spoof of the real thing.
As I perused the article, however, I noticed that it glossed over a key sticking point in the proposal that should resonate, for better or worse, with many students: “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.” If you just read the quote above and thought, big deal, I’ll just fly through these stupid questions to get to my grades, then you’re precisely the type of person I’m directing this point toward. If we’re going to make this online feedback system work well — and that means the end product has to deliver at least one great class each semester that you didn’t know squat about before — then each of us needs to want to fill the evaluations out.
The Yale College Council raised precisely this concern with Professor Bailyn last semester in a special meeting convened to discuss Bailyn’s system-in-the-works and lend further student feedback. We felt that, in the spirit of constructing not only a desirable feedback system but also a practical one, requiring students to fill out evaluations in order to view course grades might result in hasty, and therefore worthless, responses. Professor Bailyn insists that a pilot study conducted this past semester demonstrates that students offer more thoughtful feedback once removed from the classroom environment. (Please note, however, that the study was not tied to the receipt of grades.) Our own pained remembrances of repeatedly and fruitlessly logging into the SIS Web site in search of course grades — more on this later — suggested that a more refined and useful format could be devised. (I mean, how are you going to fill out a worthwhile evaluation when you’re already irate that the professor took his sweet time getting the grade in?)
The result of the discussion with Professor Bailyn was a resolution, sponsored by current YCC Treasurer Andrew Klaber ’04, which offered a simple solution to this quandary. If you don’t want to spend the time filling out course evaluations, then click the button that reads, “I’ll pass, go straight to my grades.” If you skip the evaluations, then you will unable to view the course critique when it goes online. (No paper versions will exist — let’s keep the environment happy.)
On the flipside, once you have filled out all your evaluations, you will then gain access to your course grades and those evaluations will form the basis for a valuable course critique, not to mention a useful resource for departments to track the performance of their faculty. In the end, those who put in the time reap the rewards of a thorough assessment of hundreds of courses and faculty members. Sounds fair, huh?
To further ease your mind the Registrar’s Office and the Yale College Dean’s Office have agreed to support another YCC resolution from this past semester, sponsored by Sumeyya Ashraf ’04 and myself, that calls for professors to submit course grades in a timely manner. As a result, faculty will be sent reminders following the last day of exams and again around the New Year in the fall and late May in the spring, when all grades are officially due. Professors will continue to receive reminders after the deadline until they submit their grading sheets.
So long as we know when the grades will be posted, and more importantly when they will not, we can save our wrist energy for socking it to that professor who never produced a syllabus, who only informed the class of the dates of the midterms and final exam at the last minute, and who required tons of reading and tested on none of it. Who is this nefarious character? Get your evaluations in and you’ll find out soon enough.
Evan LePatner is a senior in Calhoun College. He is a former Yale College Council representative.