Getting to read our own thoughts

Students pay tens of thousands of dollars for an education, and tthere’s almost nothing worse than paying for a course and coming out of it feeling like it was a waste of time. What many students ask for is a reliable way to get a sense of the course beforehand.

Course evaluations have been conducted at U of T for years, but the data’s never been available to students. This year, a new course evaluation framework’s been developed to make the data not only more useful to staff, but also available to students.

For most students, the opinions of peers who’ve already taken a course is probably the most relevant factor in deciding whether to take it. Many students currently get their peers’ opinions through, but its information is rarely reliable. Many students who take to the site deliver ratings that are unfair or useless.

Carol Rolheiser, director of U of T’s Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, says student feedback through the course evaluations is important. “The data’s used by the university in a variety of ways, including to improve course curricula, assess students’ learning experiences related to different assignments, and when instructors go up for tenure and/or promotion,” she says.

Not all students find the course evaluations a necessity. Emily Hunt, a forensics student, doesn’t think they’re all that important. “Sure, I’ll fill it out for the sake of giving feedback. It’s online and it’s easy. But I don’t really mind if I can see the other course evaluations or not,” she says. “The course evaluations would maybe be interesting to read for a course I’m taking just to boost my GPA, but it wouldn’t do much to influence my decision in taking a course I have to take for my program.”

At the moment, students can see evaluations for courses in various faculties on Portal. More data for UTM will be made available this summer.

Rolheiser expects instructors to be able to react more closely to feedback and says they’ll be able to tailor the form to their needs. “The new course evaluation framework also provides instructors the opportunity to add their own customized questions to their course evaluations,” she said. Instructors can also opt not to share data.

Professor Christoph Richter finds the course evaluations a great resource to improve his own teaching. “The vast majority of comments are constructive, useful, and sometimes funny. And fortunately, there can also be encouraging comments which can make your day,” he says. “As a professor, I genuinely care about the students in my course and am very much interested in how they experienced and perceived the course.”

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