Two weeks ago, we applauded the professors who elected to partake in the College’s Ongoing Leaning Evaluation (OLE) program and encouraged students who were OLE participants to provide thoughtful feedback. Few of us have had the opportunity to take part in an OLE this semester, but all of us will fill out end-of-semester course evaluation forms. We earnestly advocate that students take the time and thought to fill out these surveys with due consideration.
There are several habits that may undermine the effectiveness of course evaluations. Though the form is fairly brief, we may be tempted to haphazardly circle numbers and ignore fill-in questions in order to leave class early, whether to beat the lunch rush or to buckle down for fast-approaching finals. While it does take a few extra minutes to write out genuine and thoughtful answers, professors are more likely to take specific and coherent comments to heart than hastily scribbled one-liners.
While many of us do take the time to fill out the evaluations, we are not always honest, or we resort to extremes. For some, it can be difficult to criticize a professor, whether on an overall teaching style or minor point, and we’re more inclined to leave a positive remark in parting. For others, the anonymity of evaluations affords an opportunity for a quick, scathing comment as an attack rather than productive commentary. It is important we evaluate our courses as honestly as we can, accounting for the cumulative experience of the semester—the good and the bad. Though you may never take another course from any of your current professors, other students will. Our evaluations will fuel discussion among the deans, departments and professors alike. Whether a trend in evaluations effects departmental change or simply the approach of individual professors, our collective responses are an important factor for improvement.
The Department of Academic Affairs could increase the usefulness of course evaluations by developing a system that allows students to see how other students assess a professor. Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) has encouraged this process with the creation of its Bowdoin Course Reviews Web site. Combining the required evaluations with BSG’s program would supply students and professors with a win-win situation. By compiling the end-of-semester evaluations for student use, we would gain a wider and more accurate representation of opinions on professors and courses than the BSG site currently provides. Knowing that we and our peers will actually use the evaluations when selecting future courses provides a compelling incentive for thoughtful, comprehensive student commentary. By improving the quality of student responses, professors will be both more able and apt to act upon feedback, and will be held accountable to do so by students and academic departments.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which comprises Piper Grosswendt, Will Jacob, Gemma Leghorn and Seth Walder.