The end of fall semester is a crossroads at Bowdoin. Before Thanksgiving Break, students pore over the catalogue and scour the Internet on sites like RateMyProfessors and BSG's Bowdoin College Course Reviews in an attempt to choose classes for the next semester. The limitations of these resources often leave us with no choice but to rely on the advice of that friend of a friend who took Bio 109 last year, or accept the few, extremist opinions we can find on the Internet.
A few weeks later, in the final days of classes, we find ourselves reflecting on the past semester when every professor hands out course reviews. The course review as we know it, a double-sided print-out questionnaire distributed by the Office of Academic Affairs, asks us to evaluate our experience in the course for the benefit of administrators and faculty. We are granted 20 minutes to answer the questions; we place our responses in an envelope; and we never see or hear from them again.
BSG's Course Reviews website is well-designed and underutilized. Academic Affairs' system compiles more data, yet the results are not geared toward students and remain inaccessible to them. We propose combining the best of both services. Use the Course Reviews as the template, and add additional questions from the Academic Affairs system as necessary. Student responses can be filtered such that comments pertaining to professors' teaching strategies remain private to Academic Affairs and comments of use to future students are published on the Course Reviews website, exclusively available to undergraduates. We don't need two platforms for sharing; we need one platform that serves both constituencies. An online, hybrid form would allow Academic Affairs to benefit from a streamlined process that saves paper, class time, and money, and students would win with a system that encourages thoughtful reviews and plenty of them.
It is crucial that Academic Affairs be associated with the new course reviews to give the project breadth and legitimacy. If the evaluations completed by every student in a given class were made available, the responses would be paint a far more nuanced picture in which the full range of opinions would be communicated. It is important that the new system is organized by Academic Affairs to ensure a standard of thoughtfulness and decency that is not always present on independent sites.
The new system should exist entirely online. With course review questionnaires e-mailed at the end of the semester, students will get more of a chance to reflect on their time in the classroom. So how to require them? Simple—withhold grades until each student completes his or her evaluations.
Take advantage of the resources we have available to us now; utilize the BSG course review system and complete the College-officiated reviews thoughtfully. If as many people contributed to the existing BSG website as spent the 20 minutes filling out the forms from Academic Affairs, our collective efforts would build an invaluable resource. Taking the time to diligently fill out the current mandatory forms will not only help our professors, but also benefit future students should Academic Affairs adopt a more transparent system. For now, we need to make these efforts on our own behalves, a standard we cannot always count on. We encourage you, then, to continue to share your candid and holistic insight about professors in the current forums. We hope to soon enjoy an improved system for course reviews, integrated for students and professors alike.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Claire Collery, Nick Daniels, Piper Grosswendt, Zoe Lescaze and Seth Walder.