This week, the Orient investigated the little-known process of Ongoing Learning Evaluations (OLEs), during which professors invite honest student conversation about a particularly difficult topic: themselves. During an OLE, a peer professor attends the teaching professor's class to facilitate student discussion about the effectiveness of the professor's teaching so far. The teaching professor is not present while the discussion is under way, but the facilitating professor collects comments and criticism from students, and then shares those responses with the teaching professor. This year, at least 10 professors have been reviewed through the process.
Because professors are in no way required to participate in OLEs, those who do choose to be evaluated signal a genuine interest in hearing what their students have to say. Given that OLEs can happen mid-semester, students are more likely to care about the input they provide—contrary to end-of-semester course evaluations which can be rushed and seem insignificant. At the mid-semester point, students have a good sense of what works in class and what could be improved, and it is in the best interest of everyone to provide honest and helpful feedback about professors. Further, by having another professor listen to and communicate the constructive criticism, the teaching professor can get a concrete sense of how to improve, something that numbers on a Course Evaluation don't provide as easily.
While OLEs are primarily popular with young professors, we encourage professors of all ages to consider participating. As students, we are in awe of the talent of many of our professors, whether they are new to Bowdoin or have been here for 30 years. The advantages of OLEs, however, stretch across the board, regardless of teaching legacy or tenure status. Holding an OLE does not mean something has gone wrong in the course. Rather, it indicates a dedication and level of care for which students are grateful.
While we recognize that the process of OLEs requires that professors give up class time and open themselves up to potential criticism, we applaud those professors who are willing to consider the benefits of such discussion. Some may be encouraged to hear students support certain teaching methods, while others may be surprised to find their particular approach isn't working. Either way, enabling honest student feedback is crucial in determining effective styles.
Students are quick to complain to friends about a professor's certain habit or shortcoming that might detract or impede their potential learning, but rarely do we confront professors with their irritations or qualms. We are not suggesting that students take such direct action. Instead, we encourage students who find themselves in an OLE to be thoughtful in their assessment of the professor in review. After all, the professors who request OLEs do so because they are sincerely interested in improving the learning experience of their current and future students.
Taking class time to reflect on classroom instruction may seem like a counterproductive luxury. In fact, the OLE process provides a needed and valuable opportunity for students and professors to engage in open dialogue that will, in the end, improve the overall experience of students and faculty.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which comprises Piper Grosswendt, Will Jacob, Gemma Leghorn and Seth Walder.