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 student viewer, which they 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. Yale includes twelve standardized questions for each student to answer for every course enrolled.
End-of-term course evaluation data is used for many different ends, most often by instructors for improving their courses when they teach the course again. 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 Poorvu Center 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 tenure and 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 instructors putting too much stake in OCE results. Debate continues over the proper uses and general validity of student evaluations. The literature suggests that female instructors and instructors 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 receive higher marks from students tend to observe 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). Thus, instructors may want to consider student evaluations as one data source in their instruction by taking note of any prevailing trends in the data to act upon and avoid over-emphasizing outlier data or biased commentary. The Poorvu Center offers programming such as the annual Course (Re)Design Institute and individual consultations to support instructors in assessing student evaluation data collected.
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.