In all Yale College courses with an enrollment of five or more, undergraduates participate in online end-of-term course evaluations. These anonymous teaching evaluations are managed through the Online Course Evaluations (OCE) system. Instructors should be aware that some information collected through OCE is ultimately made available to Yale students through the Yale University Student Information Systems (SIS), which students are known to use when selecting courses. Faculty can also access their own Dashboard in OCE that allows for convenient analysis of course evaluation results.
Students usually complete the OCE survey when they receive notification that their grade for a course has been posted. While Yale does not mandate student participation, Yale prevents students from being able to view their online grade for a class until they submit its completed OCE. Students are expected to answer all questions on the end-of-term course evaluation, or at least choose to decline questions. Students who withdraw from the course after the midterm also have the option of evaluating the course, even though they are not receiving a grade.
In November 2016, Yale College Dean’s Teaching and Learning Committee presented recommendations for changes to the Online Course Evaluation (OCE) process after over a year of research and discussion with faculty and students. Proposed changes included removing redundant questions, adding new questions to prompt student reflection on their learning and focus on specific dimensions of teaching, and adding a numeric component about graduate student teaching to supplement the existing narrative question. The committee also recommended expanding access to responses for all faculty, advisors, and students, and developing a faculty dashboard to allow more convenient analysis of results. The changes were approved by faculty vote, and the new form was implemented for fall 2016 Yale College courses. The OCE faculty dashboard was launched in the following spring 2017 term.
End-of-term course evaluation data is used for many different ends, most often by instructors for improving their courses. If an instructor seeks a particular kind of feedback from students, e.g. a new teaching technique, they can submit a custom question for inclusion on their course’s end-of-term OCE. In addition, instructors can always schedule a consultation with the CTL to discuss OCE results. The usage of OCE data does vary immensely across fields and departments: for instance, some departments may use evaluations in considering promotion, while others never look at the data. Yale students tend to use course evaluation info for a specific purpose: to determine which classes to take.
While students may rely heavily on course evaluations when making course enrollment decisions, many experts and educators caution against putting too much stake in OCE results. An extensive debate continues over the proper uses and general validity of student evaluations. Some articles and studies suggest that female professors and professors of color are consistently rated lower than their colleagues (Gutierrez y Muhs, 2012), while male professors tend to be evaluated more positively than female professors (Martin, 2016). Some studies also suggest that teachers who get higher marks from students tend to see less real student learning than those who may give harsher grades and assign more work to students (thus receiving backlash from students but helping their learning in the long run) (Uttl, White, and Gonzalez 2016).
References and Additional Reading
Carrell, SE and West JE. (2010). Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors. Journal of Political Economy 118(3).
Gutierrez y Muhs et al.(Eds) (2012). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Utah State University Press: Boulder, CO.
Martin, L. (2016). Gender, Teaching Evaluations and Professional Success in Political Science. American Political Science Association p. 313-319.
Uttl B., White C., Gonzalez D. (2016). Metaanalysis of Faculty’s Teaching Effectiveness: Student Evaluation of Teaching Ratings and Student Learning are not Related. Studies in Educational Evaluation 54, 22-42.