Course Evaluations Can Actually Make a Difference, if Everyone Contributes

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 27, 2017. It has been reposted as we believe the information contained is again relevant to our readers. 

Believe it or not, I actually check my student email. And when the end of the semester approaches and course evaluations open up, I’m grateful–simply because they are a distraction, an additional excuse to procrastinate writing my final papers or studying for exams. I honestly never thought they made much of an impact on the instructor or class, and if they did, I certainly wasn’t around to see it.

To some extent that’s true, but you should still take twenty minutes and fill them out. Here’s why.

Course evaluations, like so many other surveys and questionnaires, weren’t always online. Only six years ago, they were distributed to students during valuable class time and filled out by hand. The multiple choice was tedious enough to input, but handwritten comments had to be transcribed into Word documents to avoid bias through the recognition of handwriting. Talk about labor-intensive.

The process would often take months to complete, and the evaluations were often not given back to the instructor until months into the next semester. If there were changes that the instructor would have made to the teaching method or curriculum, those changes would have to wait.

Now, the link to complete an evaluation for each course is sent out to students through their student email. The survey is open until May 10th, one day after the last class; instructors receive their feedback 7-10 days later, so don’t worry about your grade being affected. The whole process is much quicker, and students remain unnamed. The written comments can never be completely anonymous though; one instructor insists that he can “identify students by writing style.”

Regardless, you shouldn’t be afraid to complete them, even if you have more criticism than praise. After all, constructive feedback is how we grow–students and instructors alike.

The evaluations are for more than just your instructors though; they serve as a conversation point between professors and their supervisors and are included in annual reviews.

ACC Vice President Diane Hegeman clarifies: “The course evaluations serve as one of several tools as part of the evaluation process for faculty and instructors. It is similar to a course taken by a student; one test or one paper doesn’t provide a thorough evaluation of the learning process.  We use this tool, combined with classroom observations by supervisors and other evaluation measures to monitor the progress of instruction.”

It might seem like the evaluations might not make much of an impact then, but these supervisors look for patterns, meaning if multiple students share the same issue, it is likely to be brought up with the instructor.

So, if you thought the class was boring or the instructor uninspired, speak up! Say something if you found the course to be valuable and fun, or even if you had an extremely neutral experience. The more students that participate in these evaluations the more likely that patterns will be found that could push the class and instructor forward.

Students have more opportunities than they might think to make a difference in the quality of their education. We just need to dust off our student-inbox and offer some perspective.

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