Course Evaluations: A suggestion for change

By The Editorial Board

Editor’s Note: The Editorial Board of the Cento is composed of members of the staff and does not reflect the opinions of any one individual on the staff. The Editorial Board represents the voice of the Cento.

At the end of each semester, Centre students are besieged by the same barrage of emails pertaining to the evaluation of their courses. Everyday, they crowd in among the emails from frantic group project members and final announcements.
They arrive at the worst possible moments: in the midst of all-night study sessions, recitals, and, most distressingly, beneath the looming shadow of finals week. Students who ignore this obligation receive a dreaded block on their grades.
The Editorial Board believes it is important for students to have the ability to give feedback to their professors and for professors to receive comments on how they administer their classroom. Course evaluations create the necessary dialogue in a safe, anonymous environment.
However, as the student body is saddled with this task at the most inopportune portion of the semester—when everything crams into culmination and both mind and body are at their most stressed—it becomes imperative to ask how effectively the course evaluations achieve their purpose.
Are students filling them out honestly and at length? Or are they merely skimming the questions and answering as concisely as possible? Are professors actually reading them with an eye receptive to critique? Or are they tucking them away after a brief glance since the class is now over? Is the process worth the added stress that it creates?
A much simpler method of procedure would be to administer the course evaluations toward the middle of the semester after midterms have ended. This would allow the student body plenty of time to become accustomed to their professors’ classroom dynamics and teaching styles, learn their quirks, and identify the things that the professors do that they feel obstruct the learning process. Students would have time in this lull in the calendar to more enthusiastically consider the course evaluations rather than trying to scribble down minimalist responses in their haste to get back to their term paper. An unstressed student will be a more useful source of feedback than one that is scrambling to fill textboxes at the last minute to avoid having their grades withheld.
As the rules currently stand, not submitting the course evaluations on time incurs a dreaded punishment: a student’s grades will be kept from them for several weeks. In the high-stress days of finals—when students are devouring information for the sole purpose of successfully ending the academic period with a stellar grade—withholding grades only exacerbates the problematic situation.
Even if a student fills out three of their required course evaluations, if one is left uncompleted they suffer the same punishment as someone who fills out none of them. In this system, a student with a full schedule is discouraged from filling out any course evaluations rather than some. By moving the evaluation process to the middle of the semester, the administration will remove the need for this punishment and relieve anxiety from the student body.
The biggest benefit of moving the course evaluations is that it would allow for a more immediate form of feedback and response. Professors would have the opportunity to review feedback and adjust their course in the moment, giving the largest possible benefit to students. This will prevent semester-long problems that students might be too timid or concerned to speak up about and allow professors to more specifically gear their classes to the needs of their students of that semester. Students will then benefit by having a professor who is engaged with them on a level of deeper mutual understanding.
The additional advantage of allowing professors to adjust for problems mid-course is that it would show students that their opinion actually does matter to the professor and the administration. Obviously, many professors take into account the feedback given to them on their course evaluations; however, since often a student might not have the same professor again, students never see the true impact of their feedback.
It often begins to feel like the evaluations are just an arbitrary necessity, something a student must fill out or face consequences. If professors were able to review feedback and make changes mid-year, each student would see the result of their contributions and feel more like a part of the decision-making process.
The Editorial Board advocates for this possible change in the course evaluation policy, so that students, faculty, and administration might receive the largest possible benefit.





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