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Engineering evaluations deserve attention

By Thresher Editorial Board     11/19/14 1:59am

During his speech to the Student Association on Oct. 1, President David Leebron presented a graph that showed an increase in average course quality and instructor effectiveness from Fall 2007 to Fall 2013 in all five academic schools that offer undergraduate degrees. However, the graph also showed that the school of engineering consistently had the lowest score in both course and instructor evaluations over time.

The SA is now looking at the course evaluation system and how it could be changed to better reflect course quality (see p.1). The Thresher believes that, during the discussion process, the SA should also examine the differences in evaluations between the school of engineering and other academic schools.

The current course evaluation system begets biased and unreliable responses by forcing students to complete evaluations before they receive grades, thus creating a mental association between grades and evaluations. Still, it is still troubling that the school of engineering’s evaluations have been consistently lower than other schools’.



Some would argue the difficulty of the school of engineering’s courses at least partially explain their consistently lower course and instructor evaluations. However, according to data shown in a Faculty Senate presentation in Spring 2014 on grade inflation, engineering courses had the third lowest average grade during Fall 2012 and other semesters, sitting above social sciences and natural sciences.

Thus, engineering course evaluations cannot be completely attributed to grading, though it may still be reasonable to believe that the engineering curriculum’s difficulty and workload contribute significantly to the poor evaluations.

Discussing the school of engineering as one entity disserves those departments within the school that have consistently highly-rated courses. There are plenty of professors in the bioengineering and materials science departments whose courses do not give out consistently high grades and have high workloads yet also receive positive evaluations — these courses should serve as models of engineering education.

The SA should not ignore consistently-low engineering course and instructor evaluations during discussions of the larger evaluation system. While it’s tempting to place blame entirely on either the course evaluation system or the school of engineering itself, both are partially responsible for consistently low evaluations.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher editorial staff. All other opinion pieces represent solely the opinion of the piece’s author.



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