As the semester comes to a close with the last week of instruction, we are approaching the dreaded week of final exams. But in the coming days, students will also have the opportunity to assess their professors and evaluate the quality of the courses they have sat through all semester.
The new course evaluation procedure implemented at the end of this semester — which will now be referred to as “learning experience” evaluations — will ask students to respond to an online questionnaire while the professor steps out of the classroom. When 80 percent of students have responded to the evaluation form, the professor will be allowed to step back in.
If these really are learning experience evaluations, they should be available to other learners. While the course evaluation system is primarily designed for professors to improve their teaching, there is undeniable value in having other students see how their peers rate certain courses. Therefore, the responses of the course evaluations should be accessible to all USC students. Some reports indicate USC used to have these numbers available in a database on MyUSC in the early 2000s, but this is no longer the case.
The course evaluation form assesses course design, instructional practices, inclusion practices, assessment practices and course impact on multiple choice scales and through short answers. Publishing the percentage of students who respond with each option allows for a scaled version of responses that students interested in the course should be able to access.
There is an opportunity for students to provide detailed feedback to their instructors. But of course, students’ written comments should remain private for professors to review. According to Vice Provost of Academic and Faculty Affairs Elizabeth Graddy, some students write “disturbing” comments in these evaluations since they know they are anonymous. Making these comments public would not benefit anyone. But there is no such danger with publicizing multiple choice evaluation questions.
There will always be an element of bias when it comes to course evaluations. This same bias exists on the infamous RateMyProfessors.com, a website that gives students a platform to evaluate their professors. Undoubtedly, students who earn higher grades will rate the class higher than students who receive poor grades.
UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, implemented its own system — BruinWalk — to bypass this problem. Founded in 1998, the BruinWalk website includes the grade distributions, as provided by the registrar, for each course and for each professor who teaches that course. With this information, students can track grading tendencies and factor this in alongside course evaluation ratings.
USC should implement a similar system. The numbers students assign to a professor’s effectiveness, clarity of expectation, difficulty and availability outside of class would be immensely helpful for students as they look to build their course schedules for future semesters.
Perhaps these ratings might incentivize professors to read their evaluations and take them to heart. While most of my professors have said they care deeply about their evaluations, there is no way of verifying if they actually open them at all. Tenured professors with job security have even less incentive to read student opinions about their courses.
But the focus for publishing course evaluations should not only be on professors; it should also be for the students. Instead of having students pick their courses based on RateMyProfessors, a site where one poor review can damage a professor’s rating due to the sometimes incredibly small sample size, consistent publication of USC students’ responses would give students an accurate sense of a professor’s teaching style.
The evaluation forms would continue helping professors improve their classroom skills, and the written comments students provide in their evaluations would give specific feedback. But the scaled values can benefit students just the same. At the end of the day, while we often forget this due to the amount of coursework we have, professors work for students — not the other way around.
Shauli Bar-On is a freshman majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” ran Wednesdays.