Did you know any student can find ratings of all of USC’s professors through the link “Course Evaluations” on your myUSC page? I didn’t.
Upon finding this link, it became apparent why I had never heard of this application before — these “evaluations” are meaningless numbers.
OK, maybe these numbers aren’t exactly meaningless because students submitted them through end-of-the-semester evaluations, but they don’t say much. Sure, students know to avoid a professor with average ratings of one or two, and shoot for professors who score around four or five.
Most professors at USC rate an average of three or four, which means that very few of them manage to be ubiquitously deemed terrible by the student body. That doesn’t mean that every professor will fit every student just right, however; students don’t just want a professor with a good rating, they want a professor who will meet their educational needs.
Course evaluations at USC are a powerful resource for determining salaries and promotions. They determine how teachers can improve, and whether they merit new benefits from the administration.
The problem with getting accurate course evaluations is that students aren’t given the proper motivation to fill them out accurately — or at all. It’s fairly common to look up a course with a roster of more than 100 students to find that only 50-60 percent of the students completed the evaluations.
Students are busy, especially during finals season, and evaluations are typically passed out at the end of a class, when stamina is low and animosity high.
There is no doubt that evaluations are necessary, but, when they are impatiently and quickly completed, they provide little information to the administration.
A solution for students to get motivated to fill out course evaluations objectively and for professors to receive helpful comments is to make more comprehensive versions of the evaluations accessible to students. This way, students can feel that their opinions are heard by their peers who may be considering taking a course with a particular professor in the future.
In years past, there was an online forum called USCprofessors created by the USC Student Senate that allowed students to freely comment on their professors on several criteria. Students also had the option to view other students’ opinions on professors they were considering for the forthcoming semester.
This forum no longer exists, perhaps because the comments were unregulated and often biased. An alternative site, ratemyprofessors.com, acts as an erratic source for looking up professors with an equally unfiltered system of comments. What students seek by going to sites like USCprofessors and ratemyprofessors.com are indications of how well a professor will fit their learning style and educational goals; numbers alone cannot fully indicate those things, but neither can slipshod evaluations.
A more comprehensive course evaluation site for USC should include written comments in addition to numerical ratings. The fact that these evaluations go through both the administration and respective faculty will aid in regulating which comments get posted, both negative and positive.
The all-too-general questions like, “What are your instructor’s strengths?” and “What could your instructor improve on?” might merit more specific answers if students knew they would be heard among a larger audience than just their professors.
Posting relevant comments by students about an instructor’s strengths and weaknesses would create an effective system for students to gauge how well a prospective professor will meet their needs. If a professor uses highly detailed PowerPoint slides or is great at encouraging discussions, many students may opt for his or her class. Alternately, if a professor teaches in a style more lecture-based than class-discussion-based, students who enjoy participating in class may try looking for other professors more suited to their learning style.
It’s a terrible feeling going to that one class you thought you’d enjoy on that first day only to find out the professor puts you to sleep. Of course, many students take classes regardless of the professors teaching them, because they enjoy the subject or their major requires them to, but the ability to gauge a professor’s compatibility with individual learning styles is imperative to maximizing what one takes away from the class.
A more comprehensive system of course evaluations would grant students this ability, encourage more objective evaluations of future courses and even aid professors in tailoring their teaching abilities.
This comprehensive system will create a more synergistic relationship between students and faculty, where students can communicate their needs more efficiently and professors can try to meet those needs better.
Word-of-mouth comments about professors are overwhelmingly sparse: “He sucks,” “She’s funny,” “He’s boring.” A comprehensive evaluation site would allow students to walk away with a greater understanding of their potential teachers, not snarky one-liners.
Victor Luo is a junior majoring in creative writing.