It’s that time of the year again: course evaluations! The Course Feedback Forms pop-up has become inescapable in this last stretch of the semester. As annoying as it can be, we should all take full advantage of this opportunity as students to fill out course evaluations, as well as Critical Review surveys, as thoughtfully as possible.
At the end of each semester, we are asked to fill out course feedback forms, which ask a variety of questions about courses and instructors. This semester, the forms close on Jan. 4. Students must fill out these forms — or indicate that they prefer not to — to view their final grades. Importantly, submissions are anonymous and instructors cannot see reviews until they post final grades.
These course evaluations give us the opportunity to tell faculty and administrators how we want our education to look. They are specifically asking for our input. If we want our faculty and administrators to improve course quality, we have to tell them what we want — even if it feels like a pain.
You are not required to answer every question. But if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “This assignment is pointless,” or complained to your friends that a professor was routinely unhelpful in office hours, this is a prime opportunity to improve future experiences with these courses and professors. Alternatively, if you’ve ever read something transformative in a class or had a professor who blew your mind, mention that as well. A brief answer is better than nothing. Whether it is positive or negative feedback, it helps the University improve. And it’s anonymous — let it all out!
The Critical Review is another course evaluation — one that is easier to ignore, but likely far more useful to students. We as students all rely on the Critical Review as we dig through Courses @ Brown in search of classes to motivate us, challenge us and make us think. The Critical Review is a rock amidst the tumult of the Open Curriculum.
Unfortunately, the Critical Review often has gaps in its data. Professors currently have to opt in to surveys for their courses. Because of this, many courses are missing data. And the ones that do have data often only have feedback from a small portion of students in the class, which can compromise review quality — or prevent a review from being written at all. This phenomenon can be especially pronounced in humanities classes, which are often smaller. Low response rates can privilege the voices of students with opinions at the extremes, who are more likely to want to write in. Students often make significant educational decisions based on the Critical Review — shouldn’t we all have an interest in ensuring it’s extremely reliable?
This responsibility cuts both ways. The Critical Review should be opt-out for instructors. They may want to opt out from reviews because of documented biases in course evaluations against women and/or people of color. It is important that this choice remains available. However, some professors may not feel strongly about opting in or out. If the default was for a course to be reviewed, then the Critical Review could see more participation from these indifferent professors. Thus, the number of courses reviewed would increase.
At this point in the semester, the last thing any of us wants to do is to add another task to our to-do lists. But for our future selves and fellow students, take the time to reflect on your courses and voice your feedback. There’s always room for improvement.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board and aim to contribute informed opinions to campus debates while remaining mindful of the group’s past stances. The editorial page board and its views are separate from The Herald’s newsroom and the 133rd Editorial Board, which leads the paper. This editorial was written by the editorial page board’s editors Kate Waisel ’24 and Devan Paul ’24, as well as its members Alissa Simon ’25, Rachel Thomas ’25, Yael Wellisch ’26 and Paulie Malherbe ’26.