Community reacts to new course evaluation format

There will be a noticeable difference with this semester’s course evaluation emails, which are set to begin April 4. According to the office of Institutional Research, students will now receive a single email that contains individual links to all their courses. Subsequent reminder emails will only be sent out for course evaluations that students neglect to fill out.

The change comes in response to student feedback that complained in large about the number of emails being sent out for each class, says Clover Hall who is vice president of Institutional Research and Academic Planning.

When asked about last year’s rate of completion for student evaluations, Hall admitted it was much lower than the University would like to see, with only 43 percent of students completing evaluations. The Law School, however, managed a 61 percent completion rate.

Bessie George, a freshman, thinks the idea of a single email is much easier for students, while Bill Conallen, a sophomore, said he’d rather fill out the evaluation in class to give a more substantial review.

Junior Dan Lobrace also dislikes the idea of emailed evaluations all together.

“Students feel like it’s non-anonymous and feel like it could impact their grades since they are given before finals,” said Lobrace.

Hall explained that the data collected from a course evaluation is currently only seen by the faculty member who taught the class and his or her department chairperson. Each professor is emailed the results of their students’ evaluations, which includes percentages, average grades, graphs and student comments, all while protecting the identity of individual students.

In this way, Hall explains, the course evaluations are designed to improve the overall quality of instruction at St. John’s.

“The information is used to assist faculty members in evaluating and improving their instructional methods,” said Hall. “It is also used by the Department Chair in evaluating the course and identifying areas for faculty development and improvement.”

Some professors and students have expressed that perhaps course evaluation results should be made more public to the school community, therefore placing more emphasis on professor performance and giving students a more reliable alternative to Ratemyprofessors.com.

Professor Jeremy Rosen, an adjunct English professor in St. John’s College, said while he thinks it’s important for students to know about their professors, sometimes course evaluations are not entirely accurate.

 “A great deal of research on course evaluation shows that students themselves are not the best judge of the degree to which learning goals have been met,” said Rosen. “For example, students will often respond to whether they liked a particular assignment and will respond negatively to a course that they feel was difficult, but that course’s difficulty may make for effective learning for the students.”

According to Rosen, there have also been instances where negative course evaluations have been the determining factor in rejecting a professor’s tenure position.

Professor Paul Gaffney, who is chair of the philosophy department in St. John’s College, agrees that the evaluations can be unfair to certain professors.

“I think many good professors get bad reviews that are not really fair, simply because they are strict or demanding or had an unpleasant exchange with the student,” said Gaffney. “Students sometimes do not realize how helpful a professor has been to him or her until much later in their academic career – or even beyond.”

Gaffney also said that while he believes the idea of professor evaluation and assessment is important, he would prefer helping teachers improve based on their feedback instead of negatively affecting their careers.

On the contrary, there are also those who think releasing the information would increase the quality of a St. John’s education and put the data to better use. One professor, who wishes to remain anonymous, feels the collected data should be released in order to keep professors sharp.

“If they’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem with making the collected information public?” asked the professor.

Professor Jane Paley, who teaches in the Division of Mass Communications, said she wouldn’t object if her students had access to her evaluations. However, she believe this should be an individual choice for every professor.

“I read the comments carefully and adjust assignments and class work when the input is insightful and actionable,” said Paley. “I usually discount non-specific raves and gripes.”

According to Hall, this idea has been discussed amongst administrators.

“The University continues to explore this as part of the process of evaluating what are the best options for enhancing faculty development and the student learning experience,” said Hall.