Evaluation of courses helps improvement

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Have you ever had a burning desire to tell an instructor why you disliked a class, but worried about retribution? You might have thought the textbook choice was terrible, or the instructor’s long, boring lectures kept you from attending. Well, starting today, many students will once again have the opportunity to anonymously rate a course and instructor for the majority of the classes offered at the U.

The evaluations are presented online as an incentive for students who want to view their grades early. They are not required, but Jill Stephenson, program manager for student course evaluations through the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, said about 70 percent of the courses set up for the online evaluation are rated by students.

That’s an extremely high rate of participation, but it doesn’t mean students are actually taking the evaluations seriously.

“This is just my assumption, but I think a lot of students do just zip through the evaluations very quickly to get them done so they can view their grade,” Stephenson said. “(Only) 44 percent of students who actually submit an evaluation put something in the written comments. So, I would hope those are the students who are kinda thinking about their evaluation and care a bit more.”

I admit that in the past, I viewed the survey as a means to the end. I wanted to see my grades, so I responded to the questions without putting much thought into my answers. Incorrectly, I assumed that my evaluation was a drop in the bucket, and that the U only used the results to establish pay increases for instructors based on their performance.

It wasn’t until this semester that I was enlightened. One of my professors actually completed a midterm evaluation. He wanted to know what his students thought about improving the class now, and he didn’t want to wait until we were gone to hear our suggestions. Then it hit me8212;teachers are using our evaluations and I have missed many opportunities to enlighten them on my thoughts about how they could improve the class for future students.

Stephenson said the U does use the evaluations for the retention, promotion and tenure analysis of an instructor, but they are only a small part of that process. Teachers must also complete research and service, and their peers and other professional observers must also evaluate them. The student course evaluation is mainly an opportunity for teachers to receive constructive feedback from students concerning the efforts they put into teaching.

“I don’t think students are really aware of how most instructors take the student course evaluation results pretty seriously,” Stephenson said. “It is a real opportunity for them to see where they need to improve their instruction, changes they need to make in the course, and where they might need areas to improve.”

Constructive criticism, not blatant disrespect, is the goal. Stephenson said students shouldn’t use it as a sounding board for negative frustration, but should take the opportunity to discuss concerns, problems and issues with the class and/or the instructor. She suggested listing two constructive ways the class can be improved, or better yet, list something you found extremely effective. Teachers need to know what is working too.

I know everyone wants to hurry and see his or her grades, but I strongly believe that teaching is a business. As with any successful business, employees need performance appraisals to help create and reach goals. Before taking the evaluation, students need to take some time to consider ways of improving the learning process for each of their classes. Then we will be better prepared to offer legitimate suggestions to help teachers meet our expectations.

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Alicia Williams