In an effort to improve the teaching methods of young professors, Yale students turned not to their own administration, but instead to Harvard’s policies.
The Yale College Council recently submitted a proposal to the administration recommending that professors solicit feedback from their students before the first midterm. Currently, first-time professors are unable to receive any official assessments from their students until the course has ended. YCC academics chair and project leader David Lawrence ’15 said that the mid-semester evaluation system provided a method for professors to make direct improvements immediately, adding that the initial source of the idea came from Harvard’s own system for midterm evaluations that is required of new professors.
“Sometimes there are things that could definitely be improved in the class before the semester is over,” Lawrence said. “It’s very logical that professors should be able to, and also be expected to, collect feedback before the semester is over.”
Project leader Yaphet Getachew ’16 said that in the YCC surveys, many students had responded saying that they wanted a way to evaluate their instructors before the first midterm.
According to the YCC report, undergraduates at Yale, especially those majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, have agreed that this process would be beneficial. Getachew said he did not see any difficulties in getting the proposal passed, as many professors have expressed their support for it. Lawrence agreed, maintaining that support for the project was high among both faculty and students.
“As of yet, we have not heard what the decision on the proposal is,” Getachew said. “From talking with friends, faculty and the YCC, no one had any objections to an additional teacher evaluation.”
While a basic framework of the system was drafted for review by the University’s Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee, a specific format for the feedback form was not submitted. Lawrence said this arrangement would allow for the suggestions to be tailored to individual classes as different disciplines face different problems.
Lawrence noted that the student appraisals would only be available to the professor and not be used by department heads to evaluate the professors. He said this would promote honest feedback and changes without fear of repercussions.
Spanish Language Program Director Ame Cividanes echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the feedback should only be used as a tool between professors and students, not as a source of evaluation by the chair of a department.
“This approach could help the instructor get valuable feedback,” Cividanes said. “Professors will be able to reflect upon their teaching and make adjustments in pedagogy before the end of the term.”
Public health professor Richard Skolnik similarly favored mid-semester evaluations and already offers them to students in his courses. He said the evaluations would help professors to not only implement changes before the end of the semester, but also to recognize if specific learning objectives and student desires are being met in the classroom.
Eleven other students interviewed all agreed that the change would be helpful.
Youkow Homma ’16 said the proposal would allow professors to immediately respond to their students’ suggestions. He added that professors sometimes did not respond to the end of the year evaluations provided by students.
“It’s a good idea to promote communication early on between the professors and students,” Larry Tang ’14 said. “It might not be realistic to expect drastic changes, but students will still benefit from small changes like extra handouts explaining concepts that they have trouble with.”
Harvard’s system only applies to first-time professors. At Harvard, new professors are mandated to ask for a midterm evaluation while senior faculty members are only encouraged to carry out the same process.
Under Harvard’s system, students serve as the check in order to ensure that the professors offer the evaluation process each semester. As reported by the Harvard Undergraduate Council, experienced professors have said that they recognize the value of such evaluations.
Currently, Yale students are not allowed to view their grades before submitting end-of-semester evaluations of their professors.