Charge to the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning

Review of Princeton’s Online Course Evaluation System

Princeton’s undergraduate students have been evaluating their courses for many years.  The last major change in our course evaluation system occurred in December 2008, when the University introduced a new online questionnaire.  Centrally administered at the end of each semester, the questionnaire provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to provide both numerical and narrative responses to a variety of questions about their courses.  

Student responses are anonymous and available to individual instructors as well as their department chairs and program directors.  The Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements and the Faculty Committee on the Course of Study also review course evaluations in connection with their deliberations.  Finally, all students are given access to a subset of the information generated by the evaluations.

There has been a considerable amount of research regarding the reliability and design of course evaluations since Princeton revised its system in 2008.  Students have also become more active consumers and producers of online information regarding their course options; information about courses and instructors is available to them from a variety of sources.   And innovations in pedagogy have raised new and different types of questions about the classroom experience.  

Accordingly, I am asking the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning to undertake a comprehensive review of Princeton’s course evaluation system.  In particular, the Council should consider the following questions and, on the basis of its findings, offer recommendations for improving our system:     

•  How do our peers at other schools gather feedback from students regarding their courses?  How do they publish and use course evaluation data?

•  According to academic studies, how reliable are course evaluations?  Is there evidence that students’ evaluations are systematically related to the demographic characteristics of their instructors (race, gender, age, etc.)? 

•  How do Princeton students use course evaluations?  Where else do they go to find information about prospective courses?  

•  How do our faculty members use the results of students’ evaluations of their courses? 

•  How do departments, programs and administrative offices use course evaluations?

•  When should the evaluations be administered?  Should courses be evaluated more than once a semester?  If courses are to be evaluated only once per semester, is the end of the semester the best time?

•  Can the questions in the evaluation form be made more useful to members of the various constituencies who rely on the information?   For example, can the questions be more effectively tailored for specific subjects, course formats, pedagogical approaches, and disciplines?

•  Is it possible to provide contextual information that could help in the interpretation of the results?  For example, should a published evaluation be linked to a course syllabus or course description?

•  Should student responses continue to be anonymous?  If so, is it possible to gather evaluations of independent work advising (on, for example, junior papers or senior theses) without compromising student anonymity?

•  Should students be able to see more of the evaluation results than are currently made available to them?

These questions are not exhaustive; you should feel free to address other important issues that may emerge in the course of your review.  Moreover, in addition to addressing whether changes to Princeton’s current online course evaluation system are appropriate, you should offer specific recommendations for implementing any changes to the process you suggest.  

Thank you very much for your time, and please do not hesitate to let me know if my office can do anything to support your efforts.

Jill S. Dolan
Dean of the College
October 22, 2015