Course evaluations need reform

Evaluations should be moved to earlier in the term and should be comment-based.

The University has made some progress in making instructor evaluations more useful. Some course evaluation results are available through One Stop. Yet the quantity of evaluation results posted is slim. Some departments provide course evaluation results for as few as one or two professors. Although this is progress, the evaluation process still has no positive effects for students.

Course evaluations are given at the end of every term, usually on the last day of class. We all know the drill: The teacher asks for a volunteer to deliver the top-secret manila envelope to the department office, we fill in circles, we rant or rave within the comment box (or leave it blank) and we send our thoughts for the department to read and never consider again.

The timing of course evaluations is the most obvious problem. Yes, students do know more about their classroom experience by the end of the term, but the results of the evaluations won’t affect their grade, their learning process or their satisfaction with the class. The course evaluations should be given at least at the halfway point of any given term and be processed more quickly by departments so that instructors can be informed of changes that need to be made. Some departments do offer informal evaluations at midterm, but this should be a University-wide regulation.

Another problem with the course evaluations is their format. Asking how many topics were covered, the accuracy of the syllabus and the classroom environment does almost nothing to show class success or instructor capabilities. The University should move to a comment based evaluation where students can give examples of what and why.

Reforming evaluations will have positive effects for students and the University’s mission. Until this happens, students must make it their responsibility to report instructor misbehavior directly to the respective department. Although the University doesn’t give students a direct route for expressing their classroom experiences, there are ways to be heard.