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Course Evaluation Guide Needs Everyone's Cooperation

Column by Eva Moy
Staff Reporter

The Course Evaluation Guide is undergoing several major changes in the evaluations process which have been in the planning since this summer, led by myself and another ex-editor. Undoubtedly some people will be unhappy with these proposed changes, and we will try to promote discussion and accommodate any requests.

The CEG currently faces the following problems: The evaluations process is too labor intensive, the bubble forms do not provide enough information, the turnaround time is too slow, it is too expensive to print paper copies of the Guide.

The solutions, which will be implemented this semester, are to combine the numerical and text responses onto the same form, and to distribute the results exclusively online, with hard copies available in special circumstances.

Judging from the meager amount of participation from the MIT community over the past few years, I think it would be safe to say that most people do not know what is involved in producing the CEG. Let's look at the numbers: There are about 4,000 undergraduates, and each takes about four classes per semester. Theoretically, the CEG would have to process 32,000 forms each semester. In reality, only about 300 classes are evaluated. That totals about 9,000 of each type of form.

Before the evaluations period, a small group of students photocopy, count, and sort 18,000 pieces of paper. The writing process, the bulk of the data processing, involves over 20 writers over a period of several months.

It is obvious that a lot of manpower is required. In the past, the CEG relied on a few loyal volunteers to help with this Herculean task. Recently, however, we have had to pay student workers $7 per hour.

This semester, however, we plan a more drastic solution: Eliminating the bubble forms. Traditionally, the CEG has used two types of forms. The question form requires written responses, white the bubble forms ask students to rate the classes in about 30 categories, ranging from the friendliness of the instructor to the difficulty of the exams.

Ideally, the instructor should allow 10 or 15 minutes for students to complete their questionnaires, but sometimes students only get 5 or 10 minutes. In addition, some departments use their own form. Thus, one or more of the forms are not completed or all are completed very sparsely. Considering that the forms ask similar questions, this division of attention is not productive for any of the parties involved.

I also question the statistical relevance of the numbers given by the bubble forms. Let's say that in a class of 30 students, 20 are present on the day of the evaluation, and only 15 had time to answer most of the questions on the bubble form. If you were the instructor, would you trust those numbers?

The new form won't completely eliminate the use of numbers, but will place more emphasis on the word responses which have more information. We also hope to tailor the forms more to the needs of the departments and the instructors. Expanding to our current "science" and "humanities" versions we hope to add "laboratory" and "foreign languages" versions as well.

Our final change is to publish the results exclusively online. We will also photocopy several hundred copies, which will be distributed to departments and living groups. An online version offers advantages such as the ability to search for a specific instructor and to correlate responses over a period of several years. We will have more details about how to access this information at the end of November.

The underlying reason is the CEG's lack of money. It costs about $8,000 per semester to print the Guide. This cost has risen with increased paper costs. In addition, when we switched from a volunteer-based to a pay-based work force, our expenses also increased. With the money and effort we save, we will be able to concentrate on producing a better Guide in less time. And we can plan for the future instead of always trying to "catch up" with the current guide.

We, the Course Evaluation Guide staff, need to play our strengths, and that is writing well. We need the cooperation everyone in the MIT community. Professors should allow a full 10 minutes for students to fill in the forms. Students should go to class in the last two weeks to fill in the evaluation, and try to portray an accurate picture of the semester's learning experience. If they have spare time, they should come down to our office and give us a hand.

The scary thing about the CEG is that so many people do read it, and trust the comments of their fellow classmates. Every step of the CEG process is crucial, and bad timing or bad judgement can seriously affect its success. We must change both the internal processes and the expectations of the CEG, or have none at all.