Evaluation process flawed

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so the readers here can get a glimpse of my writing from college. Here is the fourth of my opinion columns, Evaluation process flawed, originally published April 25, 2006.

Admittedly it isn’t the most interesting of topics, but I feel that I at least presented a good argument.


If you’re like me, you’ve been getting spammed recently with e-mails urging you to fill out your course evaluations for this semester. You may even be getting verbally spammed by your professors. And if you’re like me, you bothered with course evaluations once during your first semester freshman year and then never again. The reason is simple: Course evaluations don’t count for much, and thus, many students don’t take the time to fill them out.

First, let us remember the primary goal of professors here at the university. Contrary to popular opinion, many consider themselves researchers first and teachers second. That’s okay; obviously we need researchers to keep the wheels of progress spinning. But I know most students don’t appreciate it when a research-oriented professor comes in and does a half-assed job of teaching.

Luckily, we do have many good (and even some great) professors here at the university. These are most often the ones who urge everyone to fill out the course evaluation form. Why? Not because they want to look good to their superiors, but rather because they want to get real feedback directly from their students on how their teaching is going. I’ve even had professors who, on their own, made up and gave out a course evaluation in the middle of the semester to get ongoing feedback about how the class was progressing. Now that’s dedication to teaching.

It’s not these good teachers I’m worried about, though. I’m worried about the bad teachers, and you all know who I’m talking about. I’m referring to the teachers who occasionally don’t show up for class, give sleep-inducing lectures, take weeks to return graded assignments and, in general, just aren’t into teaching. I’m sure negative course evaluations are left for these professors, but not much seems to be done about it.

The chairs of the various colleges here at the university need to step up. If a professor is consistently getting poor ratings, they should be confronted and maybe even coerced into taking an education class. If that doesn’t work, the professor should no longer be assigned to teach, and instead just be assigned to work on their research (something I’m sure those professors wouldn’t mind anyway).

Students aren’t entirely blameless either. Something needs to be done to ensure course evaluations are filled out by the majority of students so professors have a wide enough response base from which to draw meaningful conclusions about their teaching. I’m thinking something along the lines of incentives (or disincentives). Make it so that students can’t register for classes until they’ve evaluated their current classes. Or add a small fee to tuition and then refund it upon completion of all course evaluations. I know some students might not like these measures, but let’s face it, if we are to expect faculty to deal with course evaluations more seriously, we must deal with them more seriously ourselves.

Course evaluations are already as easy as they’re going to get. All you have to do is log in to Testudo and fill out some online forms. It shouldn’t take more than one hour total for all of your classes. That’s a small investment of time to pay if it genuinely helps many students following in your footsteps next year. If we, the students, step up and make a big effort to treat these things seriously, we can make the administration take them more seriously too.

But who am I kidding? The vast majority of students aren’t going to take course evaluations seriously unless they’re restricted from registering for next semester’s classes until they fill them out.

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