Editorial: A critical review of course evaluations

Monday, April 16, 2012

With pre-registration coming up this week, students are honing in on classes for next semester. Everyone wants to know the good professors, which classes should be left to concentrators and whether or not the assigned reading will leave you time to hit the Whiskey Republic on Wednesdays. This is the kind of information that should theoretically be available through the student-run Critical Review course evaluations website. Unfortunately, Critical Review evaluations are rarely returned, a pattern made worse by their competition with the recently digitized official administration course evaluations. We believe this database of student knowledge is extremely important in making sure students get the most out of their courses, and we advocate a bigger role for the administration in ensuring the University-wide implementation of Critical Review surveys. 

The Critical Review provides information and advice to students that University evaluations do not. For one thing, the Critical Review publishes its results on an easily accessible website that is open to students, while administration-issued evaluations are for official use only. Furthermore, the Critical Review publicizes the answers to questions students constantly wonder about prospective courses – such as lecture quality, amount of work and annoying professor habits – while University evaluations focus more on whether expected course material was learned.

Critical Review surveys are also not returned at a high-enough rate to be effective. According to Dingyi Sun ’12, a Critical Review editor-in-chief, less than 40 percent of course evaluations are returned, due to “a mix of either the department secretaries not distributing the packets to the professors or the professor elect(ing) to not distribute the (evaluations) to their class.” Because the Critical Review staff lacks the power to make sure their blank forms are distributed and their completed forms returned, its website is sadly lacking in both completeness and variety. 

The difference in content and diagnostics between the surveys, as well as logistical “red tape” involved, makes it difficult for the University to incorporate the Critical Review into its own evaluations, Sun said. However, the administration needs to make the universal submission of the Critical Review evaluations a higher priority. We advocate the institution of a mandatory procedure for every department to distribute the forms to its students. The Critical Review may be a student venture, but it is invaluable to the student course experience, and we believe it is the administration’s responsibility to facilitate its successful and widespread implementation.

For students to get the most value out of their Brown education, they need to make informed course decisions based on comprehensive information. We believe this is an extremely important point, and we advocate a concrete policy change. We would even advise making it obligatory for students to fill out the Critical Review in order to receive their grades – the same policy that produces an 89 percent return rate for official course evaluations, according to a recent Herald article. The administration needs to take notice and “critically review” its current policy. 



Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.