Course evaluations to go online in the fall

Students will be able to view feedback on specific courses

Lizzie Goncharova

Lizzie Goncharova

For many years, student groups such as the Minnesota Students Association advocated for the results of University of Minnesota course evaluations to be released to students to aid them in future course registration. This fall, parts of students’ end-of-semester course evaluations will be available online for other students to view.

Currently, students fill out evaluations at the end of each semester for each course they take. The evaluations are used by both professors and the University for a variety of personnel decisions, including decisions involving promotion and tenure, and awards and merit reviews. Professors use them to change the course of their classes and figure out what did and didn’t work.

“I have used course evaluations though my entire career to improve my course, to change what I do, to listen deeply to what students feel like they are getting through this course or not getting through this course,” Jane Phillips, professor of the Evolution and Biology of Sex course in the department of Biology Teaching and Learning, said.

Currently most students rely on word of mouth, and websites like Rate My Professor to find information about the courses they are signing up for.

Freshman health services management major John Keblusek supports making students’ opinions on professors and courses available on a University-sponsored website. “I feel like they would monitor it a lot more as opposed to Rate My Professor, where it’s pretty much free reign,” Keblusek said.

Feedback to be available online includes questions like whether students would recommend the course to other students, if the course’s grading standards are clear, and how much time per week the student spent doing work related to the course.

Information like that could have saved alumna Alyssa Anderson, who graduated in 2014, from signing up for courses she now regrets taking.

“If I would have had the course evaluation information before signing up, I would have been able to avoid a few headaches,” Anderson said. “I was definitely tricked into taking at least a couple classes from professors that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Freshman Spanish studies and sociology major Maggi Ibis thinks featured course reviews from students would be beneficial. “Even the course descriptions online can be really misleading, so I think it would be really important to have that student reflection,” Ibis said.

“If I would have had the course evaluation information before signing up, I would have been able to avoid a few headaches, ” Anderson said.

The evaluations that appear online will be for specific courses rather than the professors who teach them. Results from course-specific items will be released to students and identified by term, course number, and section only. The ratings of specific faculty are covered by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, and are not allowed to be released.

According to Phillips, certain schools worked around releasing ratings of professors. The University of Illinois had an incomplete list of the top faculty for a specific semester, based on which professors got the highest scores during course evaluations. The list was considered incomplete because not every course got evaluated, so some teachers weren’t able to be on the list. Phillips said that it allowed students to see if specific professors from courses they needed to take were on the list.

Sophomore journalism major Andrew Ruffing doesn’t mind that specifics about professors are not included in the online evaluations. “They’re not going in to just experience the teacher, they’re going in to experience the course,” Ruffing said.

Phillips, however, wishes that faculty information would also be released. “I think it’s a great idea and I think that students should have access to information about the courses if they’re paying the money,” Philips said.

Ibis said that a professor can have a huge impact on a student’s class experience, but that “one single opinion or experience does not fully account for how the professor is professionally.”

Even though information on specific professors is not available online, students can look up the name of an instructor who taught a course in a given semester and deduce the name of the instructor through the course data released.

Another key change to the policy this year was the removal of the question “What could I have done to be a better learner?” According to the Office of Measurement Services, students got irritated with the question and wrote unproductive responses. The course evaluations have also removed demographic questions.