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Course evaluations slammed as ineffective

A Berkeley professor said the evaluations aren’t a good gauge of a class.

Philip Stark, professor and chairman of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has written about the effectiveness of such evaluations. A preview of his work on the usefulness of evaluations was published on ScienceOpen’s website on Sept. 29.

Stark said evaluations that involve rating teachers are largely ineffective.

“Ratings don’t reflect learning,” Stark said. “The topic (of ratings) has bugged me ever since I became a professor.”

Beverly Taylor, professor and chairwoman of the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature, said evaluations allow the department to work with teachers who consistently get poor evaluations.

In her own classes, Taylor estimated that 40 percent of students fill out evaluations. She said she does use the appraisals to alter syllabuses.

Stark said when students fill out an evaluation at the end of a course, they might not take time to process past their most powerful emotion. Although Stark still uses evaluations in his own classes, he said he places the most emphasis on comments from students.

Taylor said it’s often the people who are mad about something who make sure to write an evaluation.

Paul Roberge, chairman of the UNC Department of Linguistics, agreed.

“It’s often going to be people who either really love the course or have an axe to grind,” Roberge said.

He said evaluations are important when considering a faculty member for promotion or review.

Stark said the most useful parts of evaluations are comments pertaining to things the professor can actually change.

Roberge said he likes the feedback.

“I saw one that said, ‘Death by 1000 PowerPoints,’” he said.

Junior Rebekah Hunt said she thought course evaluations might be more useful if students filled them out midway through the semester.

“I feel it would be much more helpful, if the idea is to improve the class, to have them midway so that way students could actually give feedback before the class is over,” she said.

Kenan-Flagler Business School introduced a new course evaluation format in spring 2012, and professors now have the option of administering them midway through the semester.

“Since it’s students we are teaching and who determine whether or not the class is successful, we value their opinion,” said Jennifer Conrad, senior associate dean for academic affairs at Kenan-Flagler.

“We don’t consider it as just a measure of happiness.”

Senior Sagar Shukla said he thinks it’s right to complete evaluations, but he thinks evaluations at the end of the semester leave professors with a long period of time before they can use student suggestions.

“Just like students, if you’re told something, and you have a long period of time where you’re not utilizing it, the chances that you actually put that into effect are slim,” he said.

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Roberge said course evaluations are too often taken for granted, despite the fact they used to be a rarity. Roberge believes it is a student’s responsibility to fill out these evaluations.

“It’s like the vote. It’s yours — use it.”