Professor evaluations are not enough

They happen only once a semester at the very end. No, I’m not talking about finals. I’m talking about professor evaluations.

Almost every AU student knows the drill. The professor picks one kid to be in charge and then leaves the room. That student passes out one piece of paper with multiple-choice questions and another with long form questions. The multiple-choice questions ask you to rank how often your professor introduces new discoveries in the field into the curriculum, whether you achieved the learning objectives and the course’s rigor.

On the long form sheet, you answer six questions. You are asked about the good, the bad and your additional comments for both the course and the professor. And that’s it. By the end of the week, you feel like you never want to look at a scantron again. Then finals week comes along, and there goes that dream.

Everyone at AU has taken a class that could be improved. The main tool AU has for asking students about those classes is these professor evaluations. That’s not enough. There is no room to discuss how students feel about anything beyond that specific class and that specific professor.

At Northwestern University, they have the Searle Center for Advanced Teaching. It is run out of Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), and the employees put together panels of graduate and undergraduate students to talk about teaching and learning. According to my friend and Northwestern student Alexi Stocker, who is a member of the undergraduate committee, “They look for people who really care about learning at Northwestern, rather than just getting a degree that will look good on a resume.”

AU should institute a similar program. This type of program would allow us to get serious about overall learning. There are students here who care deeply about learning. Allowing them to express their opinions on a panel would help us all, because they have good ideas. I’ve heard students suggest grouping introductory courses, like macro and microeconomics (ECON 100 and 200, respectively) by learning style. I’ve heard tons of complaints about how easy general education biology courses are. And I’ve heard students suggest an expansion of statistics courses to include a lower level statistics for research course.

Right now, all of these ideas are relegated to informal conversations. There is really no other way for students to express them. AU needs a program like Searle so that we can utilize our students, who are the university’s greatest resource, to make real learning a top priority on this campus.

Shelby Ostergaard is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs

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