Do Course Evals Really Matter?

Categories: Life at Columbia

Does anyone actually pay attention to course evaluations? Ashley Funk, Sr Admissions Advisor, says ‘Yes.’ And like any excellent writer, she backs up what she says with great examples. (In this case, actual quotes from our instructors!)

If you’ve been at Columbia for a year or more, you know that with the end of the semester comes course evaluation season. I’ve worked with course evaluations in several capacities. Back when I was a student, I completed many course evaluations (they used to be done using bubble sheets and were much longer, so you are lucky they’ve streamlined the process since my student days!). Then, when I worked in reception one summer, I entered course evaluations into documents to be summarized and sent to professors, and now, I occasionally administer course evaluations to help out the academics department.

Make your voice heard.

I know that sometimes, course evaluations can be seen as an excuse to rush through the questions, just to get out of class a bit early (which we’d all like to do, especially at the end of the semester). But, just so you know, these evaluations are actually super important and a great way to make your voice heard as a Columbia student. Every comment on every evaluation is read and taken into account (trust me, because I’m one of the ones who has done that!). Course evaluations are your opportunity to give feedback to your professors, and also to the academic department as a whole.

If you’ve really loved a class this semester, don’t be shy!

Positive comments really help and encourage your professors. And alongside any positive comments, be sure to be honest about things you wish could be different. Feedback about what to change and what to do better really help your professors too, especially the newer ones.

Last semester, Jesse Nickel received his first round of evaluations as a new Columbia professor, and he had this to say: “Receiving the student evaluations at the end of last term… was a deeply encouraging and very meaningful experience. I found that over the course of the term, it was sometimes difficult to evaluate how the students were experiencing the class and responding to the material… The warmth, positivity, and appreciation in the evaluation were therefore so encouraging, affirming, and gave me renewed energy to take on term number two.” And, just so you know, the criticisms he received on the evaluations also led him to start using handouts during his lectures during second semester, which he hadn’t been doing initially. Your feedback makes a difference!

David Warkentin, another prof at CBC, emphasizes that teaching is a partnership between himself and his students. “Course evaluations, therefore, are a critical window into assessing this partnership… Hearing feedback from students has pushed me to check in regularly with students to clarify how each class and activity fits into the bigger picture of the course. The result has been less ambiguity in the classroom and a stronger partnership between myself and students”.

Similarly, Elise Hartin has said that course evaluations are like a mirror, affirming her development as an instructor and helping her see that she is on the right track. Evaluations she’s received have also led her to make changes, such as changing the weighting of certain assignments, restructuring a course, or deciding whether to keep or change a textbook.

In short, students, course evaluations are important because your professors listen to you. They are, really and truly, here to make your learning experience the best it can be. They want to know what you really think, and they want to make changes where necessary, because they care about your education here at Columbia. Next time one of us comes into your classroom with a stack of evaluation sheets, (or emails you a link to an online evaluation form) remember to be encouraging, and also to be honest, critical, and thorough – don’t rush through it! If you want to see change, if you want to help your professors grow and become better and better at their jobs, this is your chance.

So, go forth and evaluate – with honesty, clarity, and the assurance that your feedback makes a difference!

Ashley Funk is Columbia’s Senior Admissions Advisor. She graduated with a BA in Biblical Studies and a minor in Biblical Teaching.