Exams, term papers, projects. Every student is familiar with the onslaught of final responsibilities that come with tying up the semester’s loose ends. In the midst of all that hustle and bustle, it’s tough to make time to complete what is essential to evaluate the quality of the semester – course evaluations.
In most classes, course evaluations are optional. Students receive emails from Baylor Institutional Research and Testing, the department in charge of administering course evaluations, when the surveys are made available. They’re also likely to receive verbal reminders from instructors to complete evaluations.
Some instructors, however, have made course evaluations a mandatory part of the class, assigning a grade to a student’s completion of that course’s evaluation. In some instances, earning those points is dependent on a 100 percent completion rate across the class – if even one student doesn’t do the evaluation, the entire class loses points.
While Baylor’s most recent Course Evaluation Policy and Procedures does not prohibit it, this is not the way course evaluations should ever be handled. Students should always have the choice to complete evaluations. Placing requirements on evaluations taints the process for a number of reasons.
Requiring a student who wouldn’t otherwise complete an evaluation could lead to inaccurate reviews. In general, students do evaluations when they feel very positively or negatively about an instructor. These, although slanted to one side or the other, can be more accurate pictures of an instructor’s performance. However, coerced students are likely to enter random answers that don’t actually reflect the course and won’t add anything to the other reviews.
Additionally, mandatory evaluations come across as self-seeking on the part of the instructor. Course evaluations are used in the faculty and staff performance review process, whereby instructors are considered for promotions and tenure. More evaluations means the possibility of greater consideration for job advancement, which is great for the instructor, but comes at the expense of students’ volition and won’t necessarily reflect the instructors’ true performance. With a good number of uninvested students giving half-hearted answers, there’s a higher chance of instructors unjustly earning high marks just because a student was too lazy to accurately reflect on the class.
Finally, basing an individual student’s grade on their classmates’ completion of an evaluation that’s rarely mandatory isn’t fair to the individual. Most students don’t complete course evaluations when they aren’t required to, so it won’t be shocking when one or two students don’t complete the evaluation even though it’s mandatory. It’s rare that basing personal grades on overarching class performance is beneficial to students, but it’s especially inappropriate where a usually ungraded activity is concerned.
The biannual task of rating a course instructor’s performance is inarguably helpful, regardless of what end of the evaluation you’re on. For many students, course evaluations are the only place to safely voice concerns or praise for a particular instructor’s teaching abilities. For instructors, the assessments provide a means of identifying what qualities make them effective in the classroom, as well as what could be improved.
By the end of the semester, most students aren’t worried about completing course evaluations. They’re only worried about getting through finals. And although evaluations are helpful for improving the educational experience at Baylor, instructors should be more aware of how making course evaluations mandatory defeats their intended purpose.