In addition to reducing the amount of paper the University consumes, online course evaluations yield three primary benefits. First, the online forms are easier to use than their physical counterparts. They are easy to access and eliminate the labor required by administrative staff, faculty and students to print, distribute, complete and return evaluation forms.
Second, online course evaluations encourage students to offer more comprehensive qualitative assessments of course materials and faculty. Many students find typing easier and quicker than writing by hand, and we suspect that the new evaluation format—which requires users to click through several pages—pushes students to dwell a little longer on each section. More robust qualitative assessments are not only useful for students, who can use comments to make decisions about which classes to take. But they are also valuable for professors seeking ways to tweak their courses or teaching styles and tenure committees working to determine which professors ought to receive tenure.
Third, the new evaluation method makes collecting and distributing data on courses and professors more efficient. Course evaluations will be viewable on ACES, and having these evaluations in digital format will, in all likelihood, prove immensely useful to students as they search for classes.
The new evaluations also include questions about the appropriateness of each course's “Modes of Inquiry” designations. As we have argued in the past, asking students to assess the degree to which their classes satisfy specific Trinity Requirements helps to ensure that courses are tagged with correct designations. We commend the University for making this addition to course evaluations.
Although we endorse the new course evaluation system, we recommend several changes. Because the University does not require students to complete course evaluations, online form—which give students much more freedom in deciding when and where to fill them out—increase the likelihood that students will neglect to complete evaluations.
At the behest of Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education, many professors have asked students to complete evaluations during class. However, if the University desires to maximize participation, it should mandate that students complete course evaluations. To enforce such a mandate, the University should make releasing a student’s grades on ACES conditional on his or her successful completion of course evaluations.
We also suggest that the administration make it clearer, through a press release or in a statement on the evaluation form, that students’ anonymity is preserved in the new system. Because students must log in to their ACES accounts to access course evaluations, some students might wrongly conclude that professors or administrator have the ability to link evaluation responses with specific net-IDs. Administrators should make it very clear that responses to course evaluations are, as they have always been, anonymous, given the important role anonymity plays in soliciting candid responses from students.