As the fall semester comes to a close, it’s open season for course evaluations. Feedback from students is an integral part of the University’s self-improvement, explaining the professorial exhortations that go along with the evaluations. Unfortunately, few students are willing to fill out these evaluations. As much as students are responsible for filling them out, it is the role of professors to demonstrate the impact of these criticisms. Additionally, information regarding class structure, such as syllabi and evaluations, should be more centralized to allow students to compare courses.
As it stands, rates of completion for the course evaluations is low with only 56 percent of students participating at any course level during Fall 2012. This rate tends to stay consistent from year to year — increasing by only 1.66 percent from Fall 2011.
An obvious disconnect exists between students and faculty about of the importance of these evaluations. Professors and graduate student instructors need to make it explicitly clear how essential students’ feedback is to improving the course. Professors should set aside time at the end of the final class to give students the opportunity to complete the evaluation, which would highlight the importance of student opinions.
Faculty should also ensure that students can see how their feedback may affect instruction changes in the future. For instance, professors should e-mail students after responses have been read, acknowledging common criticisms and praises for the course, and describing planned improvements. Providing students with information about how their evaluations are utilized demonstrates that their opinion is actually considered. Obviously, an increase in student participation would be more useful to instructors because they would have more opinions and feedback to draw from.
Evaluations also need to be documented in an online database that is easily accessible to students. A consolidated resource would allows students to to consider the evaluation of their peers when they navigate classes on Wolverine Access. The average student perspective offered in these evaluations would provide a more trustworthy opinion than websites like Rate My Professor, which lends itself to participation bias and creates unreliable information. To assist students in selecting courses, professors should be required to upload past or tentative syllabi to one central website — allowing students to compare the workload and structure of different courses. The syllabus archive on the LSA’s course guide site does not contain all courses, leaving students without an adequate understanding of what their future class may look like.
Providing better transparency in the course review system will ultimately demonstrate to students that it is in their best interest to contribute to the mutually beneficial program. In the meantime, providing students with time in class and feedback about changes based on their responses will increase participation — ultimately leading to improved instructor performance and better courses.