In the spring of 2020, thousands of Princeton students were forced to shift to online learning. Professors, TAs, and preceptors rushed to adapt to Zoom while students struggled with burnout and a growing mental health crisis. As teaching methods changed, so too did course satisfaction, with evaluations and ratings seeing improvements in some departments and steep declines in others. Now, three years after those students were sent home, The Daily Princetonian set out to analyze how course reviews have changed before, during, and after the pandemic.
The ‘Prince’ obtained data from the past nine years of course reviews from the Princeton Courses website, provided by the student-run TigerApps team. Our analysis looked at the zero-to-five star “course quality” student evaluations, as well as PrincetonCourses.com favorites. Non-degree granting departments were excluded from this analysis. (Sorry, Writing Seminars).
Most departments saw improvements in course ratings during the pandemic. The average department went from a 4.16 pre-COVID rating to a 4.29 during-COVID average. The only departments that did not show improvements during the lockdown were Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Art and Archaeology, and Economics, the former three departments where courses may have significant in-person components.
In the fall of 2021, the University lifted most of its significant social distancing measures for students. Some departments saw spikes in ratings relative to pre-pandemic levels, while some experienced further declines — Chemical and Biological Engineering, Computer Science, and Architecture had post-COVID ratings worse than their pre-COVID averages. The most common trend, however, was a simple return to pre-COVID levels. The average department went from a 4.16 pre-pandemic rating to a 4.17 post-pandemic rating. In total, most Princeton departments held strong during the pandemic, not letting their course evaluations slip.
On PrincetonCourses.com, students have the option to “favorite” a course, which pins it to their homepage. The ‘Prince’ also looked at the PrincetonCourses.com favorites that departments had accumulated during each pandemic stage. These were measured against the total number of favorites given in each stage to give a relative popularity measurement for each department.
The most consistently popular departments in terms of favorited courses were Computer Science, History, Politics, SPIA, Economics, and English. The relative popularity of each department stayed mainly constant throughout the pandemic, with small increases in popularity for Anthropology, Art and Archaeology, and Politics.
Among some of Princeton’s largest courses, a wide range of changes were observed between their pre-COVID and during COVID ratings. The ‘Prince’ chose to analyze 11 commonly taken classes: ECO 100 (Introduction to Microeconomics), COS 126 (Computer Science: An Interdisciplinary Approach), COS 226 (Algorithms and Data Structures), CHM 201 (General Chemistry I), POL 345 (Introduction to Quantitative Social Science), MAT 103/104 (Calculus I/II), MAT 201/202 (Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra), and PHY 103/104 (General Physics I/II).
Although most departments saw an increase in ratings during COVID, some of their largest courses decreased in perceived quality. Only four of the courses analyzed showed increases: MAT 104, COS 226, CHM 201, and ECO 100. ECO 100 showed a significant increase of 0.36 points (on a zero-to-five scale), whereas MAT 202 and POL 345 showed steep declines of 0.66 and 0.56 points respectively.
During the pandemic, many students found themselves disillusioned with Princeton, its departments, and the courses it offers. Although some popular courses saw drops in course ratings, certain departmental ratings rose to new highs.
Myles Anderson is a first-year Data contributor from Toronto, Canada.
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