Course rating surveys not taken seriously

Some students view semester-end course evaluations as an opportunity to praise their favorite professor or criticize their not-so-favorite professor. But many students rush through the evaluations, skeptical of whether their opinions make a difference.

“Many of the cases where students don’t take the evaluation process seriously are because students are under the illusion that professors don’t take students seriously,” said Mark Mullen, acting deputy director of the University Writing Program.

Course evaluations invite students, with anonymity, to answer a varying number of scaled questions about a professor and a course. Students are also asked to include additional comments or concerns. Department heads compile statistical data from the scaled question responses and use that data for individual course and professor reviews.

As the University transitions from in-class paper evaluations to electronic evaluations that are filled out online, some students are also working to encourage everyone to take evaluations more seriously. Heather Williams, a Student Association senator and chair-elect of the organization’s Academic Affairs Committee, said the SA plans to work with the University to put all course evaluation results online.

“A student could see the average course load, the average hours per week spent studying, the average grade in a particular class, in addition to other information gathered through course evaluations,” Williams said. “As a student, I would love to have that resource available for everyone.”

Williams completed her undergraduate degree at Boston University, where course evaluations are available online. Because the resource was readily available to students, they took the evaluations very seriously, Williams said.

“At BU students spend up to 20 available to students, they took the evaluations very seriously, Williams said.

“At BU students spend up to 20 minutes filling out detailed, in-depth evaluations with comments. At GW some students take as little as five minutes and only fill in the bubbles,” Williams said. “Administrators tell me that getting these resources available for students is a project that’s ‘in-the-works.’ I want to see something done.”

In his campaign, SA President-elect Audai Shakour promised the availability of an online resource where students can post comments about courses and professors.

“It’ll give students an idea of what to register for before they take classes,” Shakour said. “This will be a serious academic resource.”

Shakour expects the Web site will be similar to the popular review database ratemyprofessor.com, but will have restrictions on whether students can comment on a course or professor based on a student’s actual enrollment or completion of a class.

Faculty members said they do not give much credence to ratemyprofessor.com

“This site allows people to spew invectives, and write the most despicable comments, as many four-letter words, and their worst experiences,” mathematics chair Daniel H. Ullman said.

Although students may fill out evaluations hurriedly and without a thought to what happens to them, academic department heads said course evaluations help them make critical decisions about courses and professors.

Ullman said course evaluations in his department affect professor’s promotions, tenure and salary increases.

“When it’s time for a promotion or a teaching prize, professors can refer to their positive evaluations,” Ullman said.

Hugh Agnew, associate dean for academic programs in the Elliott School of International Affairs, wrote in an e-mail that evaluations help determine whether part-time faculty will be considered for adjunct status.

“It is crucial to the whole evaluation project that students actually fill them in seriously,” Agnew said. “Without a high percentage of responses, the evaluations will lose their validity and credibility.”

He added, “We hope that when students have become accustomed to completing the forms online as a natural part of the evaluation process we will get a rate of return that will ensure such compilations will be an accurate reflection of student opinion on the class and professor concerned.”

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