Q Is the Answer
Student evaluations of faculty are important for learning
Since 1975, the Q (or “CUE”) guide has let students evaluate their courses for the benefit of their peers. Its by-students-for-students nature made it perfect for this role—if people hated the course, they made it clear; if it was easy, they made that clear too. In recent years, however, the Q has been appropriated for another role: teacher evaluation. Administrators—in their push to bring about a greater faculty emphasis on teaching—have come to rely in part on professors’ Q scores for performance reviews, pay raises, and promotions. Certain faculty members have voiced strong opposition to the practice, suggesting that the Q guide is fickle and a poor measure of student learning. Regardless of whether the Q itself is an ideal—or even good—measure of teaching ability, we fully support the inclusion of student experience in considering professors’ raises and promotions. Teachers ought to be incentivized to provide a positive learning experience for their pupils.
As it stands, the Q is a very useful tool for students shopping courses. If faculty members are concerned that it doesn’t currently get at the heart of a student’s learning experience, we are confident that changes in design could make it better suited for this purpose. Students are certainly capable of evaluating both their teachers and their own learning experiences. The goal of the administration should be to devise a system that is designed for the explicit purpose of student evaluations for faculty use. What’s more, student teaching evaluations could be simply one part of a broader evaluation process.
For example, Harvard Business School, as well as the life sciences departments at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have already instituted systems where professors evaluate each others’ teaching ability. Universal implementation of this kind of evaluation would temper many of the faculty’s present concerns over student evaluation, and would likely provide a more complete picture of a professor’s pedagogical practices in the process.
At the end of the day, we must remember that the goal of bringing greater emphasis to teaching at Harvard is the only non-negotiable. The question of how exactly to get there is simply a matter of implementation, to be solved by trial, error, and research.
It is important to remember as we seek to improve faculty’s commitment to teaching at Harvard that the learning experience is very much a two-way street. If we approach courses in good faith, going to—and paying attention in—lecture, and seeking to engage the professor, we are more likely to come away with a positive experience. It is important to ask more of our professors, but we must also make sure we’re upholding our end of the bargain. We’ve all been in the class where we stared at our laptop through every lecture and then gave it an abysmal Q score. Maybe we wouldn’t have stared at our laptop if the lectures had been better, but maybe the lectures would have been better if the professor wasn’t teaching to 500 Apple logos. This institution exists to provide, among other things, a fruitful learning environment. The administration's emphasis on student evaluation is undoubtedly serving that goal, and we hope to see it continue in the future.