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Freshman Evaluations Improve Feedback

By Todd J. Schwartzfarb

As part of an effort to enhance communication between freshmen, their instructors, and their faculty advisers, a new experimental evaluation form is being used for selected freshman core subjects.

The form is used in Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry (3.091), Principles of Chemical Science (5.11), Introduction to Biology (7.012), Physics I (8.01), and Calculus I (18.01).

According to Travis R. Merritt, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, the standard evaluation form has historically been plagued by two problems. First, its routing process from student to instructor and then to adviser has been too slow in generating communication between students and instructors. Second, the form has been unsuccessful in eliciting meaningful exchanges between students and instructors.

In order to correct these problems, the new experimental form has been designed to produce a quicker turn-around, Merritt said.

Using the new form, students comment about the class only after the instructors evaluate their performance. This allows students to get an immediate appraisal of their work and requires that the instructor know something about each student.

Another important change was the addition of items by which students and instructors ranked the students' performance from high to low. Items included a grasp of basic ideas, correlation of grades to understanding, enjoyment of the subject, and the amount of homework.

The experimental forms have several advantages over the standard forms, according to Merritt. "The experimental forms are more explicit. They urge students to talk more analytically [about] their opinions of the course," he said. "In addition, the new routing process is quicker and allows for specific exchange of views between students and instructors."

Reaction to the new form has generally been positive. Craig Horenstein '97 said the new forms are better because "you can see what [the instructors] think, and you can respond to it."

"The new form is better at opening lines of communication between you and a [teaching assistant]," said Ben Matteo '97.

Professor of Mathematics David S. Jerison also likes the experimental form. "It was generally better than the old one," he said. However, he pointed out that the new form does not readily allow for instructor response to student comments and criticism.

"I like the new form because you know how the instructor feels about you," said Andrew Newberg '97. "In my [humanities, arts, and social science] class, in which I used an old form, I just wrote something down blankly."

Amidst the praise for the new form, however, Merritt said it is still too early to tell whether or not the experimental form has been a success. Once the UAAO receives all the completed forms it will comprehensively examine both types to see which was more effective, he said.

Merritt added that evaluations later this year will probably use the experimental form.

Merritt also noted that the use of the experimental forms would not have been possible without the help and cooperation from the instructors and undergraduate offices.