Here’s a question: How do college students go about selecting their classes? A portion of a student’s courses are predetermined due to his or her specific major or general education requirements, but what about the remainder, which must be hand-picked from an orchard of options? There are a number of elements that might influence students during this decision process, such as friends, counselors, advisors, intriguing one-sentence course summaries in the class catalog, websites or booklets with professor reviews, a weakness for dinosaurs, etc. The matter to ponder is whether those resources are consistently helping students select classes that will benefit them in a significant and enduring way, because it’d be nice if our young scholars were getting constant value from their college enrollment outside of their Rec Cen membership.
There is, however, one source of valuable data that isn’t readily available to students when they’re deciding between classes for an upcoming quarter: the data from the course and teacher evaluations that students fill out at the end of a course. At present it’s unclear what impact these evaluations have on the teaching strategies of college professors. What is clear is that this source of collective student wisdom is not made directly available to students by the university, and that if the aggregate scores of course evaluations were published for every class in the online course catalog, professors would pay a lot more attention to them than they presently do.
Regarding the usefulness of the evaluations themselves, there seems to be an opportunity to improve their ability to generate information that will be of use to students and faculty alike. For example, current evaluations contain questions such as, “To what extent were course goals clearly presented?” and “To what extent were course goals achieved?” While it’s important for professors to state the course goals and achieve them, these questions don’t address whether those goals actually benefited the students. Using the above questions as a standard of evaluation, a professor could state and achieve the goal of putting half the class to sleep in every lecture and still receive top marks from student reviewers.
So is there a way to improve the course evaluation system? Yes, there is. Here are my proposed new categories by which to judge the merits of a college course:
Inspirational Potency – Does the class motivate you to improve your behavior, or spark a new interest in something, or reveal exciting opportunities that you weren’t previously aware of?
Engagement of Attention– Are you genuinely interested and intrigued by what is taking place in class to the point that you’re actually compelled to ask questions and contribute to discussions?
Intellectual Stimulation – Does the class put you in challenging situations where you’re forced to display work ethic and ingenuity as well as expand your capabilities?
Skill Development – Did you develop specific abilities you didn’t have before the class that you’ll be able to make use of once the class is over?
Joy Level – Did you have fun in the class, and were you happy while you were there?
Memorability – Can you truly see yourself remembering this course four years from now?
There it is: a new course evaluation metric. Rate each category on a scale from 1-10, put comments on the back of the paper and that’s that. Then school administrators can publish the average scores for each category for every course-professor combination on GOLD, and, suddenly, students can find classes worth more than just four extra units.
Connor Hastings is a graduate student of environmental studies and management.