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CUE Considers Web Upgrades

By Laura L. Krug, Crimson Staff Writer

In its final meeting of the year yesterday, the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) discussed a series of issues related to making its course evaluation system more useful to students and professors, including a project aimed at linking an online version of the CUE Guide to the existing web-based course catalog.

The meeting opened with a presentation of the revamped CUE evaluation form—used to collect student feedback for the annual CUE course evaluation guide—which student members had reworked. The deletion of several multiple-choice questions and the rearrangement of others left more room for the more general, written-response queries.

“The hope is, the more space we create and the fewer questions we ask, the more thoughtful responses we’d get,” said Matthew W. Mahan ’05, who is also chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Student Affairs Committee.

The new evaluation form will be used to evaluate courses beginning in the fall.

Discussion then moved to the possibility of putting the CUE form—in its new version—online.

Though the CUE discussed several benefits of using the Web to collect information—for example, members said, it might allow instructors to custom-design certain elements of their own forms to make them appropriate for their classes—they agreed that an online system would have its drawbacks.

“I’m concerned about whether putting it online would mean losing our response rate,” said Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71.

He estimated that the average response rate in a given class is 70 percent.

To address this potential problem, the CUE discussed implementing either a system of incentives, like entry into drawings for prizes, or a more “stick and carrot” approach like temporarily withholding the grades of those students who fail to complete the evaluations.

Members agreed to slot the issue for debate at the Faculty Council meeting next Wednesday. If approved, the online forms would likely be ready for use by the 2004-2005 academic year, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz said.

The last issue under discussion at yesterday’s meeting was the possibility of implementing a system that would link the online capabilities of both the course catalog and the CUE Guide ratings. Wolcowitz said that he had been in discussions with the Instructional Computing Group, the University body which deals with issues of teaching and technology, about the creation of such a system.

He said that when completed, such a system would be a searchable database with “Google-like capacities.” Students could search for courses using myriad criteria, from an instructor’s name to CUE guide ratings.

“The more search capabilities we build into the directory, the better,” said Gross.

The CUE endorsed going ahead with the project and Wolcowitz said research into its feasibility will continue.

—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at krug@fas.harvard.edu.

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