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Q Guide Will No Longer Display Difficulty Score, Harris Says

Change Is Among Several Voted on by Faculty Council

By Meg P. Bernhard, Crimson Staff Writer

The Q Guide, the College’s course and instructor evaluation system, will no longer publicly display course difficulty scores, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris wrote in an email to students Tuesday afternoon.

The Q Guide feedback form available at the end of each semester will still ask students to indicate how difficult they found their courses, but these ratings will only be communicated to the course head and instructional support staff, Harris wrote in his email.

The decision was officially made during a Faculty Council meeting on September 25, according to Secretary of the Faculty Susan L. Lively. She wrote in an email to The Crimson last week that the Faculty Council decided on the change last fall. At the time of her email, the College was in the process of implementing those changes, she wrote.

The Council also decided on several other minor changes to the evaluation system. The guide will now display the distribution of the Q results for a specific class without requiring students to click on the “details” link. By contrast, students will only be able to compare results from a specific course with a department’s “benchmark” data by clicking on the “details” link. Students will also have to report an exact number of hours they spent on a course per week as opposed to the range of hours, which students previously reported.

All of the changes will be implemented by the end of next semester.

Harris’ email said “these changes reflect the decisions of the Faculty Council that were intended to make the Q a more accurate, sophisticated, and helpful mechanism for learning about and choosing courses.”

Some members of the Faculty Council posited that the difficulty score was never a necessary component of the Q Guide and may have encouraged students to choose courses based on their rated difficulty instead of on other factors.

“[The difficulty score] could encourage students simply to use that criterion for choosing their courses,” said Classics professor Richard F. Thomas said in an interview prior to Harris’s announcement. “It could create an impulse in the instructor to make the course easier in order to attract students.”

Chinese History professor Mark C. Elliott added that he thinks most students and faculty members would agree that the difficult level of a course “is not really the most important thing about a class.”

“One hopes that after everything that our students have done up to the time they get admitted to Harvard...they recognize the value in a challenging curriculum and in taking courses that may not be an easy A, but will add in some way to their intellectual enrichment or development,” Elliott said in an interview last week.

In his email, Harris also asked students to think carefully about their pre-term planning choices in order to help the College most effectively assign teaching fellows to courses.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

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