CUE Response Rates Below Target

With one week left before online course evaluations close, concerns about the new online process persist even though the overall student response rate had climbed to the 60 percent averaged using paper evaluations as of yesterday afternoon.

A plethora of reminder e-mails and notices to students followed a recent advertising campaign, all aimed at achieving the 75 percent response rate sought by the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and the Office of the Registrar.

But for many, unease about the quality of the new paperless evaluations and concern about possible discrepancies in response rates for large and small classes leave lingering questions.

Professor of German Peter J. Burgard, who participated in the online evaluation pilot program last semester, said that the results from his online evaluations in January were “a disaster.”

“Despite repeatedly e-mailing all the students and people from the College’s office we still got a low response rate [using online evaluations],” he said. “Online evaluations not only had a small response rate but drew in particularly negative and particularly positive responses and left out the middle.”

After hearing earlier this spring that all classes must switch to the online form, Burgard declined to have his course evaluated this semester, preferring to make his own paper evaluations which will not be included in next fall’s CUE guide.

“Students should be in the proper frame of mind for evaluating a course,” Burgard said. “That is, sitting in a course with their fellow students.”

The switch to online CUE evaluations is part of a push by the Registrar—supported by the Undergraduate Council (UC) and University Hall—to move more student-related materials online. The CUE Guide will appear in paper form for the last time in fall of 2005, and online registration and add/drop forms are also expected to launch next year.

Along with reminder e-mails sent to undergraduates who had not filled out evaluations from Registrar Barry S. Kane, UC President Matthew J. Glazer ’06, and Bass Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel, individual professors have been asked to notify their classes.

“It is, alas, yet another request from your professors to PLEASE, PLEASE take the time to do a CUE evaluation,” wrote Professor of Biological Anthropology Daniel E. Lieberman in an e-mail to his Human Evolution class last Saturday.

Some students have even received personalized e-mails, identifying them as non-respondents and asking for their evaluations, raising concerns about the privacy of the online evaluation process.

“I’m pretty upset that it seems like my grade may be adversely affected if I don’t fill out the CUE evaluation,” wrote Michael W. Reckhow ’06 in an e-mail to The Crimson after receiving one such message from his professor.

But Kane said last night that professors cannot see which students specifically have not filled out their forms.

“[Faculty] absolutely do not have access to any information that would indicate to them who has completed an evaluation and who has not,” Kane wrote in an e-mail last night.

UC representative Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06, also a CUE member, said the online system does allow target e-mails to be sent to students who have not yet submitted evaluations.

“The system knows which students have evaluations remaining so that is the list that a lot of those targeted e-mails have been going to,” Chadbourne said.

Critics also worry that large lecture courses’ response rates will suffer under the new system, since students will no longer be encouraged to complete forms by hand in small sections.

Yesterday, a random survey taken by The Crimson revealed that of 15 courses containing 150 people or more, only one, Biological Sciences 50, had a response rate of 60 percent or more.

Kane said that he expects to reach the 60 percent overall goal, and added that online CUE evaluations would streamline the process for students, faculty, and administrators.

In an interview Monday, Kane said that evaluations at Yale, where he served as Registrar until 2003, have a 90 percent response rate, which he credits in part to the administrative decision to prevent students from viewing grades online until they have completed evaluations.

Gross wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson yesterday that the CUE chose not to punish students who neglected to submit evaluations, opting instead to “appeal to the important role students play in evaluating all forms of teaching.”

Chadbourne voiced his excitement about the “non-coercive campaign” but said that other measures may be necessary in the future.

“If it turns out that Harvard students are too busy and have other priorities, the Committee should talk about other ways to encourage or maybe require participation,” Chadbourne said.

—Margaret W. Ho and Rebecca D. O’Brien contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Alison A. Frost can be reached at afrost@fas.harvard.edu.