CUE Response Exceeds Goal

Eighty-three percent of undergraduates participate in first online evaluations

After a myriad of e-mail reminders and pleas by course heads, student leaders, and administrators, the first round of exclusively online evaluations closed Wednesday night.

With 83 percent of undergraduates participating, response rates exceeded the goal set by the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) at the outset of the project.

The switch from paper to on-line evaluation forms included a campaign on the part of the administration to make completing course evaluations “part of the culture” of Harvard, said Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Barry S. Kane.

Spikes in response rates at the beginning of reading period and at the close of online evaluations—which were open from April 25 through May 18—contributed to the high percentage of responses.

But some students did not fill out evaluations for all of their classes, causing a gap between the percentage of undergraduates who participated—83 percent—and the percentage of evaluations completed—74 percent.

According to Undergraduate Council Student Affairs Committee Chair Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06, the disparity is also due to the fact that the second figure includes graduate students.

Administrators focused on a shift in students’ attitudes toward evaluations. They further emphasized that it was important to have a high response rate to prove that the online evaluations were effective.

“The long-term goal is to make course evaluation part of the culture here at Harvard,” Kane said. “They’re not finished with the course until they do this evaluation.”

CUE evaluation questions remained the same during the transition to online evaluations but are expected to be re-written in the fall. Questions have been criticized during past CUE meetings for their unclear wording or improper focus on behaviors that may not be relevant to courses, such as the use of blackboards.

“This coming fall, the questions will be completely revamped,” Kane said. “We hope that they’re tight, they’re compelling, and that they really get to the heart of good teaching.”

Of particular importance is drafting questions that will serve the three different “constituencies” that use feed back from CUE guide evaluations—faculty, administrators and students, while keeping the evaluations at a manageable length, Chadbourne said.

The new CUE evaluations might also offer a selection of questions that course heads could opt to include in addition to general questions used for all classes.

While some worried that the switch to online evaluations might cause response rates to fall, Kane said the high percentage of participating students this semester has heartened the administration.

“Students responded, some of them may have complained about it, some of them may have been burdened, but [the response] is a great thing,” Kane said. “They got the message.”

David A. Lebowitz ’08 said that while online evaluations might “encroach upon free time” of students, they are more convenient.

“Filling evaluations out by hand is annoying,” he said.

Departments that used online evaluations in a pilot program last semester “had some of the highest response rates,” Chadbourne said.

Kane also oversaw a move from paper to online evaluations while serving as Yale’s registrar.

“Our biggest nay-sayers [about online evaluations] at Yale were blown away by the substantive responses they got,” Kane said.

CUE members expressed their excitement about the willingness of students to participate in the evaluation process and the possibility of collaborative projects between students and the administration in the future.

“This represented our ability to be really proactive,” Chadbourne said.

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