Evaluations don’t reflect reality

The use of student evaluations is limited, as important considerations are left out.

The Student SenateâÄôs current crusade to publicize data from semester-end evaluations canâÄôt bear any meaningful fruit.
These insufficient evaluation forms are highly imprecise measures of studentsâÄô opinions and learning outcomes. Distributed in a rush before the end of class, with finals looming and papers still to complete, many students hurry through the forms with minimal effort; there are more immediate concerns. A sour day or just-received grade can inaccurately color responses. The nine student release questions do not capture the actual experience of class. Important aspects such as teaching method, workload balance throughout the semester, and types of assignments are not included. Those questions that are included are both vague and restrictive. There are many ways to consider other courses âÄòat this level,âÄô whether it is by major, school, or course number. Furthermore, when genuine and thoughtful recommendations are made, they rarely take the form of a yes or a no. Rather, there are important shades of gray and contextual concerns based on to whom and for what purpose the recommendation is made. While offering students greater access to these evaluations is superficially appealing, the real-world use for many students is unclear. Most courses are offered at a single time by a single professor, so students donâÄôt even have much choice if they have to take it. Moreover, even personally noxious professors can teach a great deal and tough graders can encourage students to work harder and learn more. Making an improved evaluation universal for large, introductory-level courses with many sections, however, may be more useful. ProfessorsâÄô individual teaching style and accessibility are especially important in such environments, and students are offered a real choice of instructors to best fit their learning style. As they stand, semester end evaluations are likely to be little-used and worse, misleading. Kyle Weimann welcomes comments at [email protected]