Course evaluations need to be publicized McMaster University’s lack of transparency is a disservice to its students

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By: Alexander Sallas

Professors continue to state how important and necessary course evaluations are. I don’t doubt the honesty of McMaster or its professors. I believe the staff examines the evaluations, and I believe they feel they are important. However, the student body possesses understandable cynicism regarding these notions. After all, why bother filling them in when no concrete solutions are ever reached from their completion? It’s hardly unreasonable to request transparency regarding these all-important appraisals.

At any rate, one cannot shake the feeling that McMaster is fighting a losing battle. Since the school switched from paper to online evaluations, response rates have plummeted by almost 80 per cent. The situation has become so dire that many professors now offer incentives, such as bonus marks, to complete them. These questionable ethics have an important consideration. If I’m filling in an evaluation form because I was incentivized, will my response be as forthcoming or comprehensive as those who completed it of their own volition? Will the incentive itself taint the rating in some way? Further, how far will these incentives go? How far should they go?

If McMaster really wants more students to fill out course evaluations, it needs to allow students to better interpret the tangible effects from them.

McMaster itself is largely to blame for this course evaluation dissatisfaction. As noted in a previous Silhouette article, McMaster’s policy governs what is and is not released. Developed in 1997 and revised in 2013, it states that the only answer that’s allowed to go public is “how would you rate your professor overall?” In these cases, professors also have to opt-in for the answer’s release.

This policy is antithetical to the purpose of course evaluations. Evaluations are supposed to be “critical to future course development and instructor assessment processes”, but if that’s the case, then why do we never hear of any results stemming from their completion? If McMaster really wants more students to fill out course evaluations, it needs to allow students to better interpret the tangible effects from them. It’s understandable that students, worried about a thousand other things, will be less than enthused about filling in a survey that appears once in a current course and is never heard from again.

This need goes beyond just the students providing the feedback as well. It would be wonderful for future students to be able to read course responses on Mosaic when they are choosing classes. Not sure which elective to take? Wondering if you need to buy the textbook? Curious about the workload? This information could, and should, be readily available. This would empower the student voice. The evaluations would now be meaningful, as those students’ words may be the deciding factor in another student taking or not taking the class. Let’s publicize course evaluations.

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