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How Do You Pick The Right Class?

April 29, 2009

by Abhi Nemani
How Do You Pick The Right Class?

Easy answer: But is that a good answer?

Of course we've all been wondering that for some time now--wondering if the criteria is fair, the responses biased, and the users real--but I think we could all probably agree on this: there has to be something better.

But what is it? Now that's a question for which there aren't easy answers, but it's still surely worth asking. In that spirit, we took it to the Dean of Faculty last week: a few members of ASCMC met with Dean Hess and Dean Cody to discuss how we can facilitate informed decision-making. Our initial solution--an obvious one, really--was to publish the school-wide, end-of-term course evaluations online. Sure, we expected a challenge, so we came complete with technical recommendations and even offered to chip in. But they weren't buying it. To be fair, that "they" requires clarification. From what I gather, the administration seems willing to share the data from the evals online--they are already accessible in-print in the office. But it's the faculty that frustrate greater publication. Professors don't want their numbers getting out. Interestingly, though, it seems that it's those particular numbers that are the problem. In the faculty's eyes, the evals seem like a paper version of on personality, preference, and bias--so they'd hardly like to see the administration publish them for the world to see.

Of course, that doesn't mean the course evaluations shouldn't go online, just that they probably won't. To be honest, I don't find their argument persuasive, but that's not the point, at least now. Faculty disapproval is too strong, and their power is ostensibly absolute. They could simply stop distributing the evaluations. Accordingly, our discussion with the Deans focused on alternatives, ways to get new, more fair, and more acceptable numbers, and they were optimistic--I'll explain why in a later post--that a student-backed proposal could become policy. So now we have to turn the question back to you, again.

How to do you pick the right class?

We're looking for your input on what specific questions you think would generate the most useful responses in course evaluations. They can be either quantitative or qualitative, and remember that they should be appropriate in any course in any discipline. Post your thoughts in the comments below, and we'll take the top responses right back to the Dean of Faculty.

This is a chance to help yourself out and help us change college policy. We'd appreciate your input, honesty, and thoughtfulness.

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