University News

Online evaluations elicit mixed reactions

Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2012

The University has implemented several changes to its course evaluation system in the past few years, standardizing evaluation forms in 2006 and moving the system online in 2008. But students and professors remain conflicted about the accuracy and the efficiency of the current system.

Under the online system, evaluations are released during the last two weeks of the semester and can be filled out until final grades are released. The College Curriculum Council saw an 89 percent return rate last fall for online evaluations, which students have to fill out before they can see their final grades.

Compared to the old system – in which students filled out evaluation forms during their class periods – many students and professors see improvements in the new system.

Online evaluations are better in terms of efficiency and accuracy since the completion of the evaluation does not use class time, said Alon Galor ’15, adding that they give students more time and privacy to respond to each question.

But Jerome de Nijs ’15 said he preferred paper evaluations because they were distributed during class time, giving students incentive to fill them out because they did not have to do it on their own time. He added that the online system might cause a decrease in accuracy, since students may rush through the form in an effort to get to their final grades. He pointed out that students can submit the evaluation form without filling it out and still see their grades.

While Mehrdad Kiani ’15 said most students are as honest as possible, he said he feels it can be difficult to objectively evaluate the performance of the professor without taking into account factors such as grades, difficulty of recent exams and general feelings about the course material. For example, if a student found a recent exam particularly hard, that student might be more inclined to give the professor a harsher evaluation.

Professors generally approved of online evaluations, but some still hold some qualms about the efficacy and accuracy of responses.

Rachel Friedberg, senior lecturer in economics, said online evaluations are practical because there is no danger of losing them. But she voiced concerns that the evaluations’ length might encourage less thoughtful answers.

David Sobel, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, said he likes the fact that the online evaluations do not take up class time, since that time can instead be used for instruction. But he added that filling out the evaluations during class time might make them more accurate, since it is easier for students to recall details about the class in the same setting. The best method may be to use the online system but have students do it at the end of class, he said.

Online evaluations save time in the office that was formerly spent calculating and tabulating results, said Roberto Serrano, professor of economics and chair of the department. The online system has yielded comparable evaluations for professors as the former system did – professors who received high ratings previously are still receiving high ratings, he said. Serrano added that students provide longer and more thoughtful comments on the online system.

With improved feedback from students, professors have more constructive criticism available to them and are better able to address repeated concerns, Serrano said. Improved responses are also important, as they present departments with a more comprehensive view of their professors. While having professors who are top researchers and leaders in their fields is important, Serrano said, so is having people who can competently explain things to students.