Tag Archive: Yale College

  1. Committee tackles course evaluations

    Leave a Comment

    A Yale College Dean’s Office committee is working to enhance the current system of online course evaluations by putting together a set of recommendations that could be implemented as soon as this semester.

    The Teaching and Learning Committee has been investigating the topic of online course evaluations since fall 2015 and presented its initial recommendations at a Yale College Faculty meeting in April. Faculty members offered feedback at a discussion in October, and the committee hopes to revise its suggestions by next month. Proposed changes include eliminating redundant questions, adding new questions and incorporating a numeric component for faculty ratings, in addition to the existing open-ended questions. Though the majority of feedback has been positive, this final suggestion has raised ire.

    “Our goal is to make sure that the partnership between students and faculty, on how students experience the courses they take at Yale, be preserved and maintained,” committee chair and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Scott Strobel said. “The feedback that students provide on the courses are valuable both to the faculty member teaching the class and to students using that material for course selection in the future. We don’t want to do anything that would disrupt that partnership, and the committee is looking for ways to enhance that partnership.”

    The committee, which met once every two weeks during the 2015–16 academic year, read literature on the topic of course evaluations and looked at studies conducted at other universities before assembling recommendations of its own, Strobel said. He emphasized the importance of preserving and improving the “social contract” between faculty and students who rely on evaluations data.

    The committee identified several aspects of the course evaluation system that could be improved, such as redundant questions and questions that may reflect personal biases about students’ experience in the class, Strobel said. In response, Strobel said the committee suggested replacing redundant or unhelpful questions, such as those asking students to declare whether they enrolled in the class to satisfy major or distributional requirements, with more introspective questions.

    Zac Krislov ’16, one of three undergraduate members of the committee, said research shows that asking questions in the beginning of the evaluation form about how much a student learned and how much effort they put into a class generally yields higher quality evaluations.

    “Course evaluations data is a big question of who is allowed to see what data, and what they are used for,” Krislov said. “The current framework for this was decided a number of years ago, and I think the student use of data has grown in ways that nobody could have really expected at the time with things like Yale Blue Book. Yale is remarkably open with its course evaluations data in terms of showing that to students.”

    The proposed recommendations would offer students the chance to weigh in on issues such as the frequency with which they get feedback from professors and the degree to which they feel intellectually challenged, Strobel said, adding that the number of questions or the total time and energy required of students to fill out evaluations would not significantly increase.

    These changes were piloted as a midterm evaluation for PSYC 200 last spring, according to committee member and professor of psychology Gregory Samanez-Larkin. Students reported they “did not feel it was excessively more burdensome,” Strobel said. Committee member Kelsi Caywood ’18 said the changes to the form are intended to help students and administrators get a more comprehensive sense of teaching quality across departments.

    “While no set of evaluation questions can perfectly capture the quality of a given course, I do think the Teaching and Learning Committee’s recommendations are an improvement over our current questions and hope they can be adopted soon,” said committee member Marla Geha, a professor in the astronomy and physics departments.

    Strobel said feedback from faculty has generally been positive and demonstrated growing support for the recommendations, though other faculty members expressed dissatisfaction with the suggestion to implement a numeric scale for rating professors and potentially make that data available to other faculty members.

    Strobel said the reasoning behind this recommendation lies in the fact that being able to see how other faculty members are doing provides perspective for the quality of one’s own teaching. Krislov added that while open-ended questions provide more in-depth feedback, a quantifiable scale offers standardization and the easy comparability of numbers.

    “[The existing system of] evaluations for professors are great,” history professor Glenda Glimore said. “They’re learning tools. Publishing them widely turns them from learning tools into marketing tools for the course, and I’m not sure if Yale College should be in that business.”

    Gilmore also cited recent studies indicating that numeric evaluations may raise concerns about racial and gender inequality because the studies suggest that female professors and professors of color are consistently rated lower than their colleagues.

    Existing literature shows that in general, women professors tend to be evaluated more positively in smaller courses, and male professors are often rated higher in larger courses, which might play into gender stereotypes about nurturing versus commanding an audience, Krislov said.

    The committee is considering removing or amending the suggested numeric question based on faculty response, Strobel said.

    Committee member and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Michael Koelle said the proposal states that there are “inappropriate” uses of student evaluations, and it remains undecided if and how the publicizing of such data would affect issues of tenure or promotion. He added that students evaluations should not be the sole factor when considering promotion.

    “Even in just considering the contribution to teaching by a faculty member, student evaluations should just be one component of the process,” Koelle said. “Everyone agrees that it would be inappropriate to reduce a faculty member’s contribution to teaching to a single number and that is not what the committee proposes.”

    Numeric rating would help separate the evaluation of a course from the evaluation of a professor, particularly in classes that are co-taught by several faculty members, Strobel said. It would also provide clearer evaluations of professors teaching fixed curriculums such as the Directed Studies program, in which professors don’t have control over the curriculum, Strobel added.

    The committee hopes to preserve the “fantastic richness” of open-ended, narrative questions, Strobel said. He added that the committee is meeting with Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate members again on Tuesday before revising its recommendations, which could be implemented at the end of this semester if agreement is reached.

    “I am impressed by the Teaching and Learning Committee’s report, which represents a year of careful thought by a faculty committee on an issue of central importance to both faculty and students,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said.

  2. Dr. J: Rebounding with Yale's New Dean

    Leave a Comment

    WEEKEND sat down with Yale College Dean Holloway, who arrived directly from a meeting on how to increase his interaction with undergraduates. An interview with WEEKEND, of course, was a good start. Now settled in since becoming Dean in May, Holloway discusses his aspirations in his new post, his nickname of Dr. J and his favorite things about undergraduates.


    Q: How was the transition from master to dean?

    A: My predecessor, Mary Miller, said it was like drinking from a hose and also drinking from a fireplace. As the master of a college, you have a very specific focus and you’re trying to tend to the needs of that particular community. But as the dean of the College, that community is a lot bigger. You’re dealing with administrative systems and academic systems, so what has thrown me through the loop is how the questions of a Dean come from many different places. That’s been an interesting challenge that’s mostly pretty fascinating. Sometimes, like any job, it has its tougher parts.

    Q: What are some of the tougher parts?

    A: Broadly speaking, I’m sitting at the end of a line of processes. I might be the person who decides on appeals, for instance. Frankly, that’s not fun, no matter what. No matter what situation it is, I know that I’m the last step. And I wear the burden a little differently in that way.

    Q: Is there anything you miss about being master?

    A: It’s too early to know, really. But my favorite day of the year has always been freshman move-in. I really loved being surrounded by the students in my college, being totally obnoxious in a prideful way, and astonishing the newest freshmen by knowing their names. So when President Salovey and I walked around Old Campus and TD and Silliman, we got a taste of it, but they weren’t my students anymore. I didn’t know who was getting out of the cars. I suspect that one thing it’s going to take a lot of time to get used to is that on a daily basis I’m used to being surrounded by students, and I loved it. Now, on a daily basis, I’m surrounded by staff. In fact, I’m trying to find ways of getting out into the college community.

    Q: Did you come up with anything particularly exciting or promising?

    A: (Whispering) The email’s coming out in a few minutes. (Laughing) Well, actually I’ll tell you. It’s called lunch with Dr. J, which is an old jokey nickname. It’s starting in a couple weeks. As the email delineates, I’m going to have nine lunches this semester. It’s going to be a yearlong series, hopefully a years-long series. It’ll be in the dining halls. I’ll sit down with students from different cohorts. For example, not just D-port, more like music students, and the next week it will be people in debate. It just depends. We’ll just sit and talk and spend time together.

    Q: How did you get the nickname Dr. J?

    A: I like to play basketball. You’re too young to know, but there was a famous basketball player named Dr. J. When I was teaching at UCSD, my students saw me playing and gave me the nickname. So when I became master of Calhoun, I decided I wanted students to call me Dr. J, only to find out years later that students have no idea who he is anymore. If this makes it in the Backstage, could you put a Wikipedia entry or a picture of the actual Dr. J? [Ed note: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Erving]

    Q: What are some of your main goals in your deanship?

    A: Well, it’s not a goal, it just a task, but the main thing is that we’re building two new colleges within the next five years. Over my five-year term, those colleges are going to be built, opened and populated. My task is to make sure that the college experience feels the same in 2018 as it does in 2014. Or better. I don’t want the addition of new students to diminish what’s already happening with Yale’s 12 colleges. More broadly speaking, I want to be available to students. I want to be visible to students. It’s my job to be their best advocate and to help encourage thoughtful conversations about how to form a really functional, ethical and critically engaged community. I remember that when I was master of Calhoun, students would complain to me that there were two cultures on campus when it came to the weekend: partiers and shut-ins. Students that didn’t want to party that hard or be shut in were finding themselves in situations where they weren’t succeeding. I’d like to think there are more than two cultures and to find a way to give other options.

    Q: How do you as Dean plan to change that?

    A: I don’t have an answer to that yet; it’s a difficult problem to solve. But I don’t want to throw my hands up and say I don’t want to deal with it. However, I think by encouraging conversation about this I can effect change. As master of a college, I can model behavior. I remember in Calhoun there was a year that was really difficult when it came to alcohol and drug abuse. I was willing to fund any activity where alcohol wasn’t the focus. I like to think it created opportunities for large-scale community events, like a dining hall-wide game night.

    Q: What’s your favorite thing about working at Yale?

    A: The undergraduates. I love teaching them, they are endlessly interesting, and I’ve learned so much from them. I think most Yale faculty would tell you that what separates teaching here from teaching other places is that the energy at the undergraduate level is so much more exciting. Also, having lived with the undergraduates for years and learning that they weren’t just book smart was totally exciting. My wife and I feel blessed that we raised our children in the college surrounded by really conscientious, impressive, twenty-year-olds. I like you guys. I really do.

    Q: Least favorite thing?

    A: March is tough. The month of March never ends.

    Contact Coryna Ogunseitan at