EMU students want evaluations online

See this article, “EMU students push for online prof evaluations.” A little explanation might be in order first, though:

EMU has this system where the “bubble test” numeric results of the student evaluations are published every two years in this book which is for sale in the EMU Union bookstore and that is also available at the library. What the student government wants is this information made available online.

That’s fine, but…

* The publication mechanism of these evalutions– in a book, online, wherever– is the least of the problems. I’ve taught as a grad student or a faculty member at four different schools now, and in my opinion, EMU’s student evaluation proceedure is the least useful. I suppose there are a lot of factors for this, but I think part of it has to do with the role of student evaluations in the faculty union contract. The union and administration have been working at revising the evaluation system, but that process has been going on for a few years and promises to go on for a few years more.

* One of the problems is EMU’s stupid computer system, the same one that has closed down EMU mail servers for the weekend while they “upgrade” things.

* Personally, I’d be more in favor of an online system if it were able to capture written comments from students. The question “Rate the effectiveness of your professor: 5 for excellent, 1 for poor” or whatever it is doesn’t really tell anyone much.

* Really, I think a system like ratemyprofessors.com might work better, if (and that’s a BIG if) there was some mechanism to get most student to participate in a thoughtful way. The problem with ratemyprofessors is you get such a small sample– I think there are five or six for me– and you get a pretty skewed example, too. The students who post tend to either be one with an axe to grind, or they tend to be ones who just absolutely loved you. It’s not a format that encourages a more diverse set of comments.

* Part of the problem with all of this is epitomized in the “lead” to the story that was in the Ann Arbor News:

When Eastern Michigan University student Edward Davis II (who is the student body president) went looking for a class to fill his science requirement, he decided on astronomy. The idea of learning about the stars and constellations was appealing. What he didn’t know was that it was a difficult class with a professor who was a tough grader.

Davis said he struggled in the class and wants others to learn from his experience. “Had I known, I would have steered clear of that professor, or at least gone into it with a different mind-set,” he said.

Look, if the only purpose of these evaluations is to find out who is offering the “easiest” classes, then I want no part of it, and frankly, students deserve what they get (or don’t get, as it were). On the other hand, if the goal of these online evaluations is to give students a lot more information about what their teachers and the classes they teach so they can make an informed choice, then I’m all for it.

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