Course evaluation info made accessible for students

The course evaluations were made public last year, but were re-vamped last month after being “lost” and found on the University’s website.

by Rilyn Eischens

The course evaluations students fill out on the last day of class are now available online, a change that some think will inform decisions about course registration.

Last month, the Minnesota Student Association published a Google spreadsheet with course evaluation information, after students asked University officials to make such records publicly accessible, according to MSA President Abeer Syedah.

Though simplified versions of the evaluations were published in 2015, the information was put into a spreadsheet over the summer because some students felt the data was hard to find and difficult to navigate on the University’s website.

Making the data easy to find is still a work in progress, Syedah said.

University Assistant Vice Provost Ole Gram said data from the evaluations has been requested for years, but information regarding instructor ratings is protected under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, and must be kept private.

Still, in 2014, a compromise was reached, allowing for the publication of course evaluation responses — such as, “I have a deeper understanding of subject matter” and “I would recommend this course” — Gram said. As a result, a 235-page PDF with these responses was put online.

The information was buried deep in the University’s class registration site after its publication, Syedah said, and most people — including some faculty — didn’t know how to find it.

Members of MSA worked with faculty over the summer to locate the data, she said. The information was then reorganized in August by MSA member Chase Taylor to make it easier for students to use.

MSA’s data team will analyze the information to identify certain outliers, like courses that receive exceptionally low ratings, Taylor said.

Ideally, the results will be posted on mainstream University sites like Moodle or MyU, said MSA Director of Academic Affairs Makda Biniam.

“We’re hopefully going to be working alongside faculty and administration to be implementing the perfect outcome,” she said.

Although many students requested the release of this data, some University professors were hesitant about publishing it, Gram said.

“There’s a sense that some of these ratings can be biased,” he said. “Sometimes you have faculty who try … to be innovative in their teaching, and sometimes it doesn’t work as well.”

But professors recognize it’s more reliable than websites like Rate My Professors, where some respondents tend to have extreme opinions, Gram said.

“I think it will be fairly useful,” he said. “At least it will give some sense of how students reacted.”

Fifth-year civil engineering student Nick Menzel said he didn’t know the course evaluations were made public but said he isn’t convinced they’ll help students because they don’t include information about course instructors.

“I don’t think it would be that useful,” said Menzel, adding that information on professor quality and suggestions to improve classrooms would be more helpful.

Emily Olson, a biology senior, said she would like to know if students felt grading was fair and whether they gained anything from a course. But overall, she doesn’t think the information will be very beneficial.

“[Those results] wouldn’t intrigue me to take a class,” she said. “Maybe if the reviews were really bad, I wouldn’t take it.”