GW should institute mid-semester course evaluations to help current students

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

More than half of the semester is behind us, but there is currently little hope that students’ experiences will be improved while they are still enrolled in their courses.

Most students see course evaluations as paperwork they need to fill out at the very end of the course, and won’t ever reap the benefits of the forms since the semester is coming to a close. But in recent years, professors nationwide have questioned whether this is the only way to do evaluations and proposed alternative options, like offering them during the semester or even weeks after the end of the semester.

Currently, the University administers online evaluations at the end of each semester, while some departments elect to do their own paper evaluations. There are a few select professors who do offer individual mid-semester course evaluations, but this is far from the norm. GW should implement mid-semester course evaluations in addition to the ones given to students at the end of each semester to improve classes for current students. Evaluations during each semester would allow students to voice complaints or concerns, whether about a professor’s teaching style or the assignments, at a time where the feedback can be immediately taken into consideration for professors to improve the second half of the semester. This would help students walk away from a course with more knowledge and a more positive experience, benefiting both the students and the professor.

Additionally, there should be an online form where students can anonymously fill out comments and concerns that may come to mind at any time during the semester. Currently, students only voice concerns during the semester directly to professors and teaching assistants, either through email or in-person, which can be intimidating and limit feedback.

Oftentimes, course evaluations that students fill out at the end of the semester can be biased because they occur right after results of the last exams or papers, and as final grades are released. But on the positive side, they do allow students to reflect on their entire course experience, and how much they have learned. Adding a mid-semester evaluation would allow students to be more focused on students’ objective thoughts on the professor and the course content itself, rather than the grade they believe they will receive in the final days of the semester. Implementing them would also be feasible. Professors at schools like Georgetown University and University of Texas, Austin already have the option to give mid-semester evaluations, and the universities provide information on how to create and implement them.

By only administering course evaluations at the end of a course – like the University does currently – professors can only use feedback to improve and make changes for next semester’s students. But by then, that new group of students may have different preferences and learning styles than the students from the previous semester. Additionally, the results of course evaluations are not even public. The Hatchet’s editorial board has previously called for the University to make course evaluations public, but administrators still have not. This is an action that GW should still take for both mid-semester and end-of-semester evaluations to increase transparency and give students another valuable resource when registering for classes.

Students should also only be given paper evaluations in class, because this can guarantee that more evaluations will be filled out. It allows professors to see a more accurate analysis of the course over the semester. Although these in-class evaluations will inevitably use more paper, that con is outweighed by the fact that these evaluations will have a significant impact on the development of future courses and students. The quality of the courses and the value that students receive from their expensive classes is worth the use of extra paper. Students have been reducing paper intake, which also gives us more flexibility to use paper for what we think is necessary.

The truth is that students often do not feel motivated to fill out online course evaluations in their own time. Although professors may have the option to allow time in class to fill out an online evaluation, students still have the option to scroll through Facebook or check their email instead. The other problem with voluntary online evaluations is that often only people in the two extremes – those who loved the class and those who hated it – will fill it out. By using paper evaluations, more information will be gathered and analyzed to help departments when it comes to evaluating professors for tenure or making hiring and firing decisions. Although this will require extra effort on the behalf of department staff, the benefits vastly outweigh the costs.

With these new paper course evaluations, the questions themselves are also in need of an update. Currently, evaluations ask general questions like the preparedness of the professor and the course’s learning outcomes. But that’s not enough. There needs to be a set of standardized questions that can be relevant to every course, but each professor should be able to write additional questions specific to their course so they can properly evaluate student input. For example, a professor could ask whether their teaching style was effective and if the content was new to them rather than repeating another course. These questions would still need to be reviewed by each department chair to ensure they are not framed in a way to skew answers to be more positive.

Course evaluations are helpful tools that can enable students, professors and departments to understand what is happening inside of a classroom at any given semester in any class. But the way that evaluations are currently administered gets in the way of providing crucial information to current students. With these changes, evaluations would be able to help the entire University.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.