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Duke to implement new course evaluation system in fall after pilot program this semester

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The Office of Assessment will be trying out a new course evaluation program for approximately 30 courses this semester.

Each semester, students are asked to fill out course evaluations to help guide improvements in course content and delivery, allow students to make informed decisions when choosing courses and show administration which faculty should be promoted or receive teaching awards.  

Professor of Economics Thomas Nechyba, chair of the Arts and Sciences Council Committee on Assessment, wrote in an email that Duke currently uses a proprietary platform in DukeHub and then publishes via Tableau for different audiences, such as students, faculty and administration. 

The course evaluation pilot came about from “considerable dissatisfaction with [the] current system,” Nechyba wrote. He added that all stakeholders are looking for a system with expanded functionality, including improved data collection for co-taught and cross-listed courses, the ability for departments to add course-specific questions and more customizable data reporting. The proposal was first introduced in January’s Arts and Sciences Council.

Sophomore Sophia Cetina agreed with Nechyba’s claim. She explained that course evaluations have felt “like more of an archive, a box to be checked.” She added that she thinks getting students involved in the process more would be “a positive move for engagement.” 

Students in the approximately 30 courses in the pilot program this spring will not use DukeHub for their course evaluations and will instead use the Evaluation Kit platform by Watermark. Some of the courses included in this pilot include Biology 201, Computer Science 201 and Psychology 101. 

The feedback of students in this spring’s pilot will be used to inform changes in the summer session—where all Trinity and Pratt classes will use the Evaluation Kit platform. Then, final changes will be made to the system before seeking final approval for the system by the Arts and Sciences Council and rolling it out to all Trinity and Pratt classes in the fall 2021 semester.  

According to Jennifer Hill, director of the office of assessment, the pilot course list was curated to address many of the elements of the course evaluation system. These include Trinity-Pratt cross listings or co-taught courses, courses those with component types such as lab and field courses and both large and small courses. Individual professors could also voluntarily sign up to be included in the pilot. 

Hill wrote in an email that it was important to engage directors of undergraduate study by describing the new system to them, addressing any concerns with courses on the original list to be in the pilot and ensuring that professors would not be adversely impacted by any unexpected problems that might result from the pilot. This allowed the effort to be a “bottom-up effort that more directly engage[s] faculty and departments” Nechyba wrote.  

Sophomore Effie Mehbod was excited that Duke is taking action to address the inadequacies of the current course evaluation system. 

“I think it’s excellent that Duke found that faculty, student and department needs were not being met by the current course evaluation system and is now working to address those concerns via a new platform,” Mehbod said.

Philippe Izedian is a contributing reporter.

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