The Yale College Council is working to create an online evaluation system that would allow undergraduates to assess their teaching assistants and then make those evaluations available to students before and during shopping period, YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said.
Students are currently asked to evaluate their TAs as part of the University’s end-of-semester course evaluations that they must complete before they can view their grades, but this information is not made publicly available to students. Marks said a new system is needed because in many large lecture classes — in which students are graded by their TAs and have little direct interaction with professors — what students take from the class is in large part a product of the quality of the TAs.
“Because so many classes are dependent on your TA experience, we feel it’s essential you know what you are getting into,” he said. “They really do make or break the class.”
Marks said the YCC wants to make the information that students include in those evaluations publicly available on the Online Course Selection menu on the University’s Student Information System Web site. The YCC plans to raise the idea in a meeting with members of the Yale College Dean’s Office, Marks said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he believes the system currently in place is sufficient because it helps TAs understand how to improve.
“The quality of teaching assistants is an issue that is very important to me — both from the standpoint of the teaching experienced by undergraduates and the educational opportunity itself for graduate students,” he said in an e-mail. “I am not sure it is necessary for the YCC to set up their own TA evaluation system given that the on-line course evaluation system now in use has opportunities to provide feedback to TAs who serve as leaders of discussion sections and labs.”
YCC Treasurer Dave Roosth ’09 said that if the administration declines to include such a site on OCS, the YCC will probably try to create an online forum for TA evaluation that is not hosted on Yale’s Web site. The YCC’s independent site would be modeled after the popular rateyourprofessor.com, which allows students at schools nationwide to read their peers’ assessments of their professors before signing up for classes, Roosth said.
“I think it’s going to get done,” he said. “I envision us just doing it on our own, having it on YaleStation … We would just have a database where it’s on a volunteer basis if we can’t get it on OCS.”
Roosth said he thinks prior bad experiences with TAs will motivate many students to fill out evaluations, even if it requires them to take the time to fill out a form on a separate Web site.
Diana Calla ’09 said she would take advantage of the evaluation system if it were available. Calla said she struggled at the beginning of last semester in an introductory biology course because the TA was not very adept at explaining the material, but after switching to a different section with a better TA, she was able to boost her grade.
“I definitely think [an evaluation system] would be a good idea because there tends to be a big discrepancy between different TAs within the same class, and it would be nice to know that going into it,” Calla said.
Elizabeth Kim GRD ’10, who served as a TA in a computer science course last spring, said she thinks creating an online evaluation site could be a good way of enhancing students’ experiences in their classes. But she said the system would not be viable if students abused it by writing vicious reviews of TAs they did not like.
“If a system like this is implemented, the onus is on the undergraduates to be very fair,” Kim said. “Universities take these evaluations pretty seriously in their hiring processes. I guess you really have to trust the undergraduates not to be jerks.”
Roosth said even if the comments are critical, having reviews available is helpful to both students and TAs, many of whom will one day become professors.
“It might be hurtful to them, but most TAs are getting their Ph.D. or in graduate school,” he said. “The majority are in academia and want to be professors or teachers, and they should get constructive feedback.”