Editorial: Time to re-evaluate

By Maroon Editorial Board

Anyone clicking through the time schedules knows that the most useful class-selecting tool is the advice of past students. Course evaluations provide such advice, and while it makes sense to scrap their antiquated paper versions, the University’s decision last fall to make them optional online forms threatens to undermine their effectiveness.

Course evaluations may not be scientifically conducted surveys, but they provide a vital service to both students and professors. For students, the evaluations serve as one of the few decent guides in determining whether or not a class is a good fit. For professors and T.A.s, they provide anonymous and constructive feedback about what did and didn’t work.

Putting the course evaluations online streamlines the whole process. Previously, the evaluations involved a long, cumbersome ritual: Forms had to be distributed to classrooms, then collected by each department, and subsequently transported to the Registrar’s Office. University employees then had to go through the tedious process of transferring the written evaluations to the online database—a less-than-ideal use of time and money.

While putting the evaluations online was a sensible move, making them optional may eliminate their utility. The evaluations were hard not to fill out under the old system; paper copies were handed out, and class time was set aside to complete them. Now students are asked to fill out these forms on their own time, making them less likely to do so. With fewer students participating, the system is less valuable.

The University should keep the online system, but students need some sort of encouragement to take the time to fill out evaluations. An appropriate option would be a small disincentive: The Registrar’s Office could withhold grades on cMore until students have filled out their course evaluations. This would create a minor inconvenience, without harming students unreasonably. Students could still request transcripts, but they wouldn’t be granted the ability to check their grades online. Other ideas, including raffles for participants, could also be tried.

The University was smart to abandon paper course evaluations in favor of electronic ones, but as it stands, the change threatens to make the evaluations useless. Students just need a little prodding to ensure that they continue to tell each other what they really think about their courses.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.