While finals loom on the horizon, students are not the only ones undergoing evaluation this semester. In fact, at least 10 professors this term opted to participate in an Ongoing Learning Evaluation (OLE) this semester. OLEs, which can occur at any point during a semester at the request of professors who want the critique, allow professors to hear candidly and from their students about how the course is going.

"I've had them done in my classes and I've been teaching for 37 years," said Associate Dean of Faculty Advancement and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Professor of Modern Languages William VanderWolk. "Anybody can profit from having a mid-semester checkup."

VanderWolk explained that OLEs first began in 2005 after Consultants on Teaching, a committee consisting of several professors and then-Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs Adam Levy, recommended the implementation of mid-semester evaluations.

Normally, an OLE will take place during the last 30 minutes of a class. The professor introduces the facilitator to his or her students and then leaves the room. Once the professor has left, the facilitator, who is also a faculty member—usually of a different department—will break the class up into small groups and have them discuss the questions, "What supports your learning in this class?" "What hinders your learning in this class?" and "What are one or two specific suggestions of ways to improve your learning in this class?"

Once the students discuss the questions in their small groups, the facilitator brings the class back together and the groups each share their responses to the questions. The facilitator takes notes on their answers and then summarizes them to the professor without sharing the contributions of individual students.

VanderWolk, who was a member of the Consultants on Teaching committee until it dissolved in 2007, said"we started doing these [evaluations] and it was successful and people started doing them among themselves without the Consultants on Teaching, but, when the Consultants disbanded after a couple of years, it dropped by the wayside."

The process was only revived this year when VanderWolk was appointed to the new post of Associate Dean of Faculty Advancement.

"In my discussions with faculty members, and particularly younger faculty members, I discovered a desire for mid-semester evaluations of their classes, on how their classes are going. So I thought that I might reinstitute the old [evaluation process], and it turned out to be very popular among the first year faculty in particular who are in a new environment and wanted a check on how things are going," VanderWolk said.

According to Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry, who had an OLE performed in mid-October, she first learned about the process from VanderWolk during the orientation for new faculty this past summer.

"I heard about it, and usually the evaluation process takes place at the end of the semester, and I thought that it was a really good idea to take a midway reading on what the students thought of the course," said Casselberry. "It really helped me to pin point the few areas where I could actually make the class a better class."

While VanderWolk says "almost all of them were in their first or second year at Bowdoin," not all of the professors to set up OLE's have been new to the College.

Professor of Romance Languages John Turner said he had an OLE performed because "it is very difficult to be sure how a class is going and it is not very useful to stop teaching and ask for feedback: For one thing it cannot be anonymous and it puts individual students on the spot...and there are moments when we wonder if something could be going better."

"There is necessarily an element of awkwardness about this...But it is never done unless the teacher wants it to happen," said Turner.

While VanderWolk says that he has connected 10 professors with facilitators this semester, he also encourages professors to arrange evaluations themselves and has no data on how many have done so independently of his office.

"Anybody can do them, there are no requirements, they don't have to go through anybody," said VanderWolk.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous out of sensitivity to her professor, wrote in an e-mail to the Orient that an OLE was performed in one of her classes and she was very happy it was.

"My first thought was 'Wow so we're all on the same page?' I always complain about [the professor] with my study group," she said.

She continued that everyone seemed to be very respectful during the OLE discussion.

"People had no problem speaking about the course, because they had things they wanted to say. Everyone just worded everything carefully. They spoke respectfully. Lines opening with 'We feel that' [and] 'Maybe if she were a little more...'"

She continued that she thought that both she and her professor have been making changes based on the results of the OLE.

"[It] seems like [my professor] will make us have more discussions on our homework readings, since we all basically confessed we don't read them because a lot of the material doesn't come up in class. I picked up the book again," she said.