Beginning at midnight this Sunday, students will be able to evaluate courses online anytime before May 18. The switch to a paperless system marks a key moment in the reform of the evaluation process underway in the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), including a re-examination of evaluation questions themselves.
Next fall, online CUE evaluations will be joined by online registration and an exclusively electronic CUE guide.
Committee members said they hope the new online forms will increase efficiency and eventually allow for greater customization of CUE evaluation questions so that they can be tailored for specific courses or departments.
“All evaluations will undergo a revision in the fall,” said Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Barry S. Kane.
The committee also discussed moving the “Overall Course Rating” and “Was Effective Overall” questions on the current CUE form to the beginning of each evaluation section. The overall effectiveness questions are currently placed after several questions about specific components of the course.
Representatives from the Undergraduate Council’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) argued that opening with the general question would allow students to give an answer that was unbiased by previous questions.
Following a suggestion by Assistant Dean of the College Stephanie H. Kenen, committee members resolved to move these questions to the beginning and to create an opportunity for students to review their initial responses before submitting the survey.
“That’s the grade. That’s the grade for the course,” Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said.
“Ultimately, no matter how detailed an evaluation is…the overall question is the most important and it’s probably important that the CUE reflect that fact and make it clear,” said Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences Peter E. Gordon.
The committee also discussed unclear or irrelevant questions on the current CUE evaluation form, including an inquiry that asks students to rate if section and lab leaders’ “used blackboards…well.”
Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and of African and African American Studies Gwendolyn D. Shaw cited a misunderstanding she herself had regarding the overall course rating question and called for faculty to be better informed about interpreting CUE evaluations.
“It would be good to have more education for faculty in how to understand all these factors,” she said.
Other potential reforms included adding a question assessing the relevancy of exams to courses and course-specific open-ended questions.
While committee members debated a range of possible new questions, they stressed the importance of keeping the evaluations brief so that response rates can reach or exceed their goal of 75 percent participation.
“I absolutely insist that the evaluation be no more complicated than it is now,” said Gross.
Registration next fall will also switch to an online format, CUE members said. The online registration form will include a new field for cell phone numbers, following an informal poll revealing that over 90 percent of Harvard students have cell phone access. While forms will only be available online, students will still have to register from computers located on campus.
The CUE guide, a published summary of CUE evaluation responses, will be distributed in hard copy for the last time next fall. Beginning in 2006, the guide will move to an exclusively electronic format.
“We’ve been pushing for a long time for the College to make more available online. We hope this is part of an overall trend...trusting students to be responsible,” said SAC Chair Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06.
—Staff writer Allison A. Frost can be reached at email@example.com.