Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Course Evaluations

I filled out three course evaluation forms in class this week, and none of them asked the questions I really wanted to answer. People complain that the evaluations don’t really tell them anything about a class – sure, there are some professors at both ends of the spectrum that the evaluations identify, but the vast majority of classes fall somewhere in the middle of the pack (much like our grades?), which, on the one-to-five scale, is way too close to five, and not close enough to one (again, much like our grades). Like undergraduate seminars, just because everyone gets an A doesn’t mean everyone deserved an A. A lot of our classes don’t really deserve an A.

I’m afraid that part of it is that by the last day of class, anyone who doesn’t like it has stopped showing up, so there’s selection bias in the sample. But I think a problem just as big is that the forms don’t ask the right questions.

I don’t know how to evaluate a professor’s “sensitivity to student concerns.” It’s not something I’m basing my course choices on, and I don’t know what exactly it’s measuring. I think most professors, good or bad, react positively to things students say. If we ask them to talk louder, I think they will. If we ask them to close the window shades, they usually do. I don’t understand why this is one of the questions.

Or why it’s all that different from “Responsiveness to student questions.” If you don’t respond to student questions, you’re not very sensitive to student concerns, and you’re probably also not very effective. So we’re double-counting, and putting undue weight on a category even horrible professors can do quite well in.

“Presentation / acceptance of alternative viewpoints” is another bizarre one. Fits in some classes, but not too many. I only need to know one viewpoint regarding Corporate Finance. Or Advanced Legal Research.

And those are all from the useful section of the evaluation. Then we delve into real clunkers like, “Relevance of assignments to course”? What information is this providing? How is this even an issue in most classes? The class is called Family Law. The book is called Family Law. If the book was called Torts, it wouldn’t be relevant.

“Relevance / importance of subject matter” is also not helping me choose classes, since this adds no information that cannot be gleaned from the title of the class. Relevant and important to who? If I’m going to practice law in Japan, Japanese Law is really important. If I’m going to work for the Sierra Club, it’s not.

We need new categories. We need a new evaluation form. A form that will actually reflect the information we need when we choose classes, and not these useless categories that tell us nothing. So, after this 500 word prologue, I present: My Revised Course Evaluation Form.

Section I. Please rate the following on a scale from one (virtually none) to five (really quite high).

1. Odds you’re getting called on in any given class.
2. Odds you’ve done the reading
3. Chance the professor actually thinks he/she’s lecturing to a bunch of colleagues, who already know as much as he/she does about the subject.
4. Chance the professor actually wrote his/her most recent book.
5. Ease of online shopping while still catching enough of what the professor is saying so as to not feel completely lost.
6. Probability you’d be seeking emancipation if you found out the professor was your parent / grandparent
7. Amount of audiovisual equipment used.
8. Amount of food provided throughout the course of the semester.
9. Unpleasant professor odor.
10. Chance you’d take the class again, knowing everything you know now, except the material itself, because if you knew that, then taking the class again would be pretty silly, wouldn’t it?

Section II. Please answer with a percentage estimate between 0 and 100.

1. Percent of classes you have attended.
2. Percent of classes you wish you’d attended
3. Percent of students, on average, who return after the 5-minute break in the middle, if applicable.
4. Percent of students, on average, who fall asleep during any given session, with 10 extra percentage points added if there is regularly snoring heard throughout the room.
5. Percent of time you believe the professor has prepared for class.
6. Percent of time you believe that if the professor has in fact prepared for class, the professor needs some help in the “preparing for class” department.
7. Percent of time spent basically reading from the assigned materials.
8. Percent of time spent basically reading from unassigned materials.
9. Percent of time spent reading from the Bible.
10. Percent of your total net worth you would pay to have all memory of this class erased from your mind.

Section III. Open-ended questions. Please print neatly.

1. Is the professor funny? Give examples.
2. Do gunners seem to gravitate toward this class? Name them. We’ll get them.
3. Draw your best imitation of the professor’s blackboard penmanship, with an emphasis on illustrating the degree of legibility.
4. Would you recommend this class to your friends?
5. Would you recommend this class to your enemies?
6. Would you recommend this class be exported to Yale?

Section IV. Bizarre and Unrelated Logic Game

John has Con Law on Monday and Tuesday. Katie has Corps on Wednesday and Thursday. Bill has Tax, but he can’t remember what days, since he never even bought the book. Susan signed up for a seminar, but wishes she didn’t since there’s so much reading. Classes that meet on Wednesday never conflict with The West Wing. Which class has the hardest exam?