As students prepare to choose classes for the spring semester, course reviews become increasingly important. Currently, Registrar-administered course evaluations are administered at the end of every semester, after lectures and precepts have ended. However, these evaluations have many downsides. As end-of-the-semester evaluations do not affect the students writing them, they are often rushed or not completed. Additionally, the evaluations of the current system are likely non-representative because they cannot include feedback from students who dropped the course and because students’ responses are influenced by their expected grades. An effective solution to these problems would be the addition of an online mid-semester course evaluation system. Aside from a few professors who ask students for mid-term evaluations, there is no regular opportunity for mid-semester student feedback. As such, the Editorial Board strongly encourages the development and implementation of a mid-semester course evaluation system that should be accessible both to professors and students seeking to enroll in the course in subsequent semesters.
There is already significant student demand for a standardized system for mid-semester evaluations. According to a Spring 2012 study in the Academic Life Total Assessment by the Undergraduate Student Government, “66 percent of students strongly or somewhat support having the option to give feedback after midterm week.” Questions could be taken from the existing course evaluations system with anonymized responses aggregated and provided to professors and other students to view online.
The first benefit of the proposed feedback system is that evaluations can have an immediate impact for students currently enrolled in the course. Feedback for lectures, precepts, labs and homework assignments, for example, could be taken into account by the course professor and used to make changes for the second half of the semester. On the other hand, end-of-the-semester evaluations made after the course has ended only allow a professor to make changes for the next class, providing no benefit for students who took the course that semester.
This is relevant to the second advantage of the proposed system: if students are likely to experience changes in a course they are enrolled in, they have a greater incentive to give thorough feedback. This would promote two principal benefits: a larger proportion of students would participate in the feedback process, and their evaluations would likely be more specific and constructive, as evaluations could now meaningfully impact the second semester of the course. The improved response rate and higher quality of responses would benefit future students contemplating enrolling in the course.
A third unique benefit of mid-semester course evaluations is that they would include the feedback of students planning to drop the course. For someone deciding whether or not to take a class, reading about other students’ reasons for dropping a course — whether it was too difficult or not interesting, for example — can be valuable. And with more perfect information, student demand for poorly-reviewed, highly-dropped courses will decrease while demand for better-reviewed courses would increase, resulting in better course selection overall.
Finally, the relative lack of certainty about grades mid-semester can result in more honest feedback; students are more likely to praise a course they are getting a good grade in and more likely to provide negative feedback if their grades are lower. If students are less confident about what their grades will be during the middle of the semester as compared to the end of the semester, student feedback will be more independent of expected grades and be less affected by bias.
As for when the proposed mid-semester course evaluations should be administered, the board believes the seventh week of classes is optimal. After midterms week, students have had ample time and experience in a course to provide constructive feedback for the professor and other students interested in the class. Additionally, the seventh week of classes occurs after fall and spring break; the week after midterms can be effectively spent determining what a student enjoys or dislikes about his or her courses. And midterms are often a major factor in students’ decisions to drop or pass/D/fail a course. With a week’s worth of distance between midterm exams and mid-semester evaluations, students would be able to provide constructive and specific feedback for their professor as well as other students.
The board suggests piloting the program within a few departments before being expanded across the University. Eventually, questions could be tailored specifically to departments or even individual courses. The board is confident that a mid-semester evaluation program could improve students’ experiences in a course and also provide students with more accurate feedback during the course selection process.