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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Online evaluations looked better on paper

Published: December 7, 2007
Section: Opinions

It is becoming painfully obvious that online course evaluations are not working. The plethora of e-mails, the tables at Usdan, and the offer of prizes have not been enough to entice students to take a few minutes in front of their computers.

While it might have looked good on paper, there are a couple of problems with the online system. The first is that the forms are due during the finals period, when students have papers to write, tests to study for, videos to make, and review sessions to attend. The students, rightfully, have other things on their minds, and it is not surprising that, as of now, only 35% of the student body has filled out the evaluations.

Second, the incentives to fill out the forms, in the middle of the finals period, are meager. Only the students who had a really great or a really miserable experience are going to take the time under the current system. This will skew the ratings and create impressions that may not at all be reflective of the majority of student opinion. We understand that, from a technological viewpoint, it will be much easier to compile the data received if the forms are online, but that is not worth a significantly lower percentage of student participation.

At the same time, Brandeis professors deserve to be treated with more respect. We expect to be graded and critiqued in order to improve as students, so why shouldn’t we respond in the same way to our professors? Professors should get their own kind of report card, based on their performance at the end of every semester. If no one fills out these evaluation forms, we are only hurting ourselves and our peers by withholding an accurate measure of what to expect from a particular class or teacher. In the past, these forms have also served as a sort of check and balance on a professor. By ignoring one of the best ways to voice an overall impression of a class, accountability is lost.

In order to remedy this problem, students must be able to have a longer period to fill out these evaluation forms. One of the last things on a student’s mind during finals period is doing any extra form of work. Secondly, some schools have told students that they must fill out evaluation forms in order to get their grades back promptly, a step that would certainly catapult participation. While punitive measures may not be the best way to approach the situation, as it stands there is simply little benefit for students in filling out the evaluation forms. A better system needs to be devised, or the evaluations should once again be on paper, handed out during class.