Grading the graders
Over the past week or so, I’ve been dutifully filling out the last course evaluation questionnaires (CEQ) of my undergraduate career at Memorial. For four years, the end of each semester has seen the distribution of those pink and white forms where we as students have the chance to voice our satisfaction (or disgust) with the way a particular course was taught or evaluated.
As an Arts student, it also happens to be one of the only times I ever get to fill in those tiny bubbles with a ballpoint pen or HB pencil – but it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the difference between “agree” and “strongly agree,” where such an arbitrary system is used to help determine the teaching abilities of the university faculty.
For some, CEQs don’t hold much weight. Aside from signalling the end of the term, a lot of students see the questionnaires as holding little to no importance since they themselves have already completed the course.
And to a certain extent, they’re right.
Professors aren’t given the evaluations until the following semester, so it’s not like telling your instructor on the CEQ that they need to speak above a whisper while lecturing is going to do much good. Immediate problems need solving during the term, and are the main reason why regular communication between professor and student is essential to a productive learning experience.
Nevertheless, course evaluations shouldn’t be taken so lightly. While professors still have the opportunity to opt-out of the sharing of the CEQ results, many courses do have viewable archives of CEQ statistics available through Memorial’s Self Service. The numbers and averages can be confusing, so it’s important to focus on what is most important to you when deciding whether or not to take a certain course with a specific professor – there are questions on the CEQ designed to measure the instructor’s ability to give feedback, to stimulate interest in the subject matter, and their overall level of instruction.
While the first side of the course evaluation questionnaire quantifies the way in which you felt about the course and its instructor throughout the term, the second side is where students’ true sentiments tend to come out most clearly.
Most of my professors over the past four years have expressed a high level of genuine interest about reading the written comments from students, so it’s worth our while to make them useful.
And since you’ve only got a few lines and a few minutes to work with, it’s a good idea to have a plan beforehand.
Don’t feel rushed – many students leave the back of CEQs blank so they can have a few extra minutes before the start of their next class, but it is the job of whoever is administering the CEQ to wait until everyone is finished, so take your time. It’s also good to remember that the comments section on the evaluation form isn’t a time to personally flatter or attack your professor.
The most useful and informative comments are those that highlight specific aspects about the course that were pleasant, and those that outline precise areas that need improvement.
It’s no secret that the current course evaluation system here at Memorial is outdated – in the age of Rate my Professor and YouTube, administering online instead of paper evaluations is not only more environmentally-sustainable, but also just makes more sense in the world of 21st century post-secondary education.
While it may be some time before we see the current system reformed to acknowledge the ubiquity of the Internet, it’s still important for students and faculty alike to take CEQs seriously.
For faculty, it may be the only chance you get to receive direct feedback about your pedagogical skills, an essential part of your university career.
And for students, just put yourselves in the shoes of next year’s class – taking advantage of the opportunity to evaluate gives them, and you, a better shot at success in class.