Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
At the end of each semester, professors implore students to complete the course evaluations for their class. Even though the CourseEvalUM system has its flaws, it’s still a useful tool for professors when examining how students feel about their teaching styles and methods. For students, however, course evaluations seem a little bit useless, especially because they come out at the end of the semester.
At a University Senate meeting last week, members recommended major changes to the current system. The proposed changes seem thoughtful and effective, especially those that will try to reduce the number of offensive or derogatory comments in the open-ended section of the survey. A bigger issue with the current system, however, is low student response rates.
Students don’t think course evaluations will impact them very much. By the time they fill out the surveys, the course is practically finished. Even if students still have a final exam or paper left, it’s too late for their comments to change the way a professor teaches the material or assesses comprehension. Plus, as history professor Marsha Rozenblit aptly said, it seems like the majority of students who respond are those that feel strongly about a professor, not those in the “broad middle.”
For students in the “broad middle,” it seems unimportant to submit an evaluation, especially if it won’t have any effect on them personally. Why take the extra time to fill out a random survey when they also have papers to write, exams to study for and plenty of other commitments?
Students would be much more likely to fill out a mid-semester course evaluation, which makes them more likely to complete one at the end of the semester as well. Some professors already conduct their own mid-semester evaluations, allowing students to assess their teaching methods, assignments, homework assignments and anything else included in the course.
As a student, I am significantly more likely to complete a mid-semester evaluation. Any comments I make will, presumably, be used to improve the course for me and my peers throughout the remainder of the semester.
Additionally, if a student has a more serious issue with a professor — such as offhanded racist remarks to the class — a mid-semester evaluation could offer an anonymous and opportune place to mention it. Since CourseEvalUM responses are anonymous, this could provide students with a way to address such an issue before the end of the semester and without initially going to a department chair or administrator.
Ultimately, if I leave feedback in a mid-semester review asking for changes in the amount of work assigned, teaching methodology or something else, then I’m much more likely to complete an end-of-semester evaluation to let my professor know if they implemented the feedback well. If it’s clear that course evaluations will play an immediate role in how much students learn and how well they do in a course, of course they are more likely to fill them out.
The proposed CourseEvalUM recommendations are great, and I support them, but those changes are mostly useful for professors. Mid-semester course evaluations would be beneficial for students and would allow them to see the purpose of completing such an assessment. Yes, feedback at the end of the semester is helpful for professors, but if students don’t let them know what they are doing right (or wrong), then the system hurts students.
Liyanga de Silva is a junior English and women’s studies major. She can be reached at email@example.com.