New course evaluation forms are set to launch in the 2019 spring semester, according Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01, after a University committee began a review of the current forms last September.
The committee comprises administrators, faculty and students and has met to create, test and revise the new course evaluation form, said Mary Wright, director of the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning and a member of the committee. It released a report in May 2018 detailing the process of review and recommendations for the new forms.
It has been 10 years since the current course evaluation forms were introduced, said Alison Field, professor of epidemiology and another member of the committee. The current forms “weren’t that helpful for faculty,” she added.
“One big drawback of the current form is, the questions are open-ended,” Wright said. “Best practice in student feedback forms is to be using more specific questions that measure teaching effectiveness and to have them be learning-centered.”
As detailed in the report, questions on the current forms broadly touches on “learning and intellectual growth” and “effectiveness of the course overall.”
“If you really want to mitigate bias and promote feedback, you want to move from global evaluations to specific learning-centered questions,” Zia said. “We as Brown faculty know that our students are incredibly smart and committed to their own learning, and we think if we ask you for specific advice, that process will help engender and promote teaching.”
“We want to get this information in a way that speaks to the experience of a student in a course and how we might improve it,” he added.
In order to evaluate the current forms, the committee gathered questions and information from the course evaluation practices of other colleges, including the other Ivy League institutions and schools such as the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After receiving this information and compiling a large number of questions, the committee “vetted those (questions) and chose the best one or two items that we felt captured that aspect of effective teaching,” Wright said, citing clarity, organization and engagement as examples.
The resulting form was presented to undergraduates in focus groups as well as to the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Graduate Student Council, Wright said. The committee then incorporated their feedback as it continued to revise the form, and piloted it in 15 courses in the middle of the 2018 spring semester. “Generally, there was very positive feedback from the faculty,” she added.
During the current semester, the committee is “talking with various constituencies on campus about their feedback about the new form,” Wright said. “We’re also working on the interface.”
The form will have a core set of questions used for all courses in addition to a “variety of questions that can be added if different departments want them,” Field said. “We realize the different disciplines have different ways of teaching and assessing teaching.” With the current forms, professors can add questions to their course evaluation, but Field said doing so is “incredibly cumbersome” and few departments actually use this ability.
The new program will also allow professors to conduct mid-semester evaluations more easily, which can be “incredibly useful for everybody,” Field said. This action is “basically impossible” with the current process.
Currently, the completed course evaluation forms can be accessed by the instructor, department chair, head of the curriculum committee in the department and the Tenure, Promotions and Appointments Committee. This level of access differs from the procedures at peer institutions, where all students and faculty members often have access to course reviews, Field said.
The committee originally considered broadening access to the completed evaluations, but “there was definitely a fair amount of pushback saying you shouldn’t change too many things at once,” Field said.
“We had a lot of legitimate concerns from people about how to (share the results of course evaluations more broadly) in a way that was thoughtful and consistent with inclusion on campus,” Zia said, adding that the University would review this topic in the future.
The University will also evaluate the new forms for bias-related issues after their launch. “The best (way to evaluate bias) is collect your own data,” Field said. “If we do find some evidence of bias, that’s a really teachable moment.”