By Aleena Paul
Filling out course evaluations is a marker of a term’s end; lectures have come to a close and finals are fast approaching. Student comments provide professors with constructive criticism aimed at improving courses for the next time they are taught. However, these evaluations are not beneficial to the students who have just completed the course. Students often have suggestions on how a course they are currently taking can be improved, but they do not have a forum to voice these opinions. The end-of-term evaluations come too late to make an meaningful impact on that student’s experience in a course.
All professors should conduct additional informal course evaluations a few weeks into the term. These evaluations can be conducted after the first major exam, paper, project or assignment. Such evaluations will provide professors with feedback on what their current students believe are the strengths and weaknesses of the class. Professors will gain an understanding of what aspects of the class are helpful to their students, and more importantly, what facets need to be changed or improved. Maybe the professor’s office hours are inconvenient for many of the current students, or maybe students found the last laboratory exercise to be very helpful in understanding the lecture material. Whether students wish for more opportunities for discussion, or love the professor’s use of visuals in lecture, course evaluations early in the term result in increased communication among professors and their students.
While it is true that students can approach their professors directly, students can be apprehensive of taking such forthright actions. It is the anonymity associated with course evaluations that allows students to provide productive critiques. In addition, every class is unique and the character of a class depends on the individual students taking the course that term. Thus, the needs of a class will vary from term to term. With course evaluations conducted early in the term, a professor can structure the course to best address the students currently enrolled. Such a measure will be especially useful for a new professor or for a new course.
When students are asked for their input in such a manner, students and professors become better partners in the learning process. Students are empowered to take an active role in their education. When students see that their professors are implementing their suggestions, professors become accessible. Students are more likely to approach their professor with problems, ask for assistance and build lasting relationships.