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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A midterm assessment of those sad little Scantrons: Teacher Course Evaluations

    Allison Dumkacolumnist
    Allison Dumka
    columnist

    The sixth week of school is when midterms start; students realize where they stand in classes and begin relaxing or freaking out accordingly. I start drinking more late-night coffee and making microwave brownies, pondering my last four years at the UA. I want to know why I’ve taken so many classes that were just OK. Why don’t our classes (or teacher assistants, instructors and professors) have to stand up to a midterm evaluation?

    One answer is that the university offers only one quantitative, universal tool to examine student feedback, and it’s the Teacher Course Evaluation, distributed and collected only once per semester, after all teaching and learning (and potential miscommunication) has ended.

    The Teacher Course Evaluation is also completely inadequate.

    We spend, at most, six minutes scribbling on these sad little Scantrons during the last day of class, doing a pathetic disservice to students and instructors alike. I employ the word “”pathetic”” because there’s not enough time to fill out the form, enough space to comment on class experiences or a single question that relates to the complexity and depth of the classes at the UA.

    Furthermore, a professor’s approval rating ends up like a class based on one final exam – one that’s probably not indicative of the whole teaching and learning experience. Students can come by office hours at any point to discuss problems or give feedback, but that isn’t easily measured, and many students do not take advantage of office hours.

    While these evaluations do offer students opportunities to assess the entirety of a course, the end of the semester is the worst possible time slot to do so.

    We’re typically burnt out and studying for multiple exams; instructors feel the same stress. No one wants to fill in a mind-numbing Scantron thoroughly and thoughtfully when their grades will be decided soon. Everyone would rather be working on actually getting good grades!

    It’s tough to claim that students can “”thoughtfully”” fill out a Scantron, and evaluative questions are depressing at best. They’re purposefully vague and ridiculous: “”Of the hours spent on this class, how many were valuable in advancing your education?”” I’m not even sure what that means. If a class was even remotely interesting and assigned things like reading books, then it probably advanced my education. Students are in college to advance their educations. And what about classes that can be taken multiple times for credit?

    Additionally, students don’t assess their classes with the language used on TCE forms. Students are much more likely to use descriptive language and discuss their experience within the class – for example, “”POL 305 was a great, accessible, interesting course, and I would recommend it to a friend.”” Another example: “”My TA was ineffective at connecting the readings to the films.””

    But TCEs don’t ask you if you would recommend this class to a friend, or if the teaching style accommodated multiple learning styles (vital to those with learning disabilities.) They ask you if it was “”about as good as most”” other classes you’ve taken. I understand the need to generalize and quantify student opinion, but “”about as good as most”” is just ridiculous and insulting to students and professors.

    Why don’t we have an online system, whereby students could have more than 10 minutes and 6 square inches to assess their classes? If students could fill these forms out and submit them within, say, a few days between classes and finals, the actual evaluation process could be more in-depth. I believe students should have the option of being non-anonymous to their professors in this process, also (evaluations are not seen until after grades have been distributed, anyhow).

    Because an online system would allow for faster processing, not waste paper and perhaps actually be relevant to the lives of students, professors could know sooner how their students felt about the 45 hours of quality time they spent together. Instructors could design one or two questions of their own, and departments could tailor evaluations to their curricula and objectives.

    As we approach midterms (and microwave brownies – and coffee!), all students and faculty really want the same things: to teach and learn effectively.

    Because Teacher Course Evaluations are filled out manually, on the worst day possible, and are filled with banal, irrelevant questions, the communication that could improve that process is inadequate. Until the TCE is revamped, the one universal, quantitative method by which instructors can receive student feedback is lost in translation.

    Allison Dumka is a senior majoring in political science and women’s studies. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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