Weakness of Course Review Models, not Lack of Student Engagement, to Blame for Poor Course-Specific Feedback
On March 6, the Thresher editorial board published an editorial discussing the deficiencies in undergraduate course feedback. While the editorial board correctly identifies the need for course review reform, the editorial places too much blame on a lack of student engagement as opposed to the weakness of existing student feedback models.
The editorial identifies two ways in which students should be better engaged with providing feedback: the course evaluation system and direct engagement through Student Association committees, town halls and intra-department advisory boards.
There are several elements of the existing post-completion course feedback system that prevent the platform from being used as the Thresher editorial board envisions. As the editorial pointed out, “Reviews are often … focused on giving advice to peers who will take the class in the future.” Many students, myself included, write course reviews with the knowledge and intention that they appear on Schedule Planner and that reviews will be seen and used by students deciding which courses to take. Clarifying the purpose of the tool might elicit more useful feedback, whether to inform prospective future students or to provide feedback to professors.
In addition, due in part to the requirement that students complete the course feedback survey to remove a hold on Esther, there is no way to distinguish between students genuinely interested in providing feedback on the course and students merely clicking through “strongly agree” to complete the registration requirement. A course review system should both encourage thoughtful student feedback and distinguish between students willing and unwilling to provide that feedback.
While committees, advisory boards and town halls reward students willing to commit greater effort to try and make changes within their respective departments, they also don’t solve the problem of feedback for specific courses.
To solve the problem of a lack of actionable feedback within individual courses or for individual instructors, Rice should move toward an in-person discussion or focus group model for course reviews. Many professors have already opted in to student feedback services provided by the Center for Teaching Excellence, where staff members lead in-class focus group-style discussions to solicit specific feedback. Additionally, as these group discussions take place during the semester, professors can immediately implement student feedback.
I believe that these existing efforts conform most closely to the Thresher editorial board’s ideal for a student feedback system and should be used to inform further development of the student feedback model. When students complete their end-of-semester course evaluations, they should have the opportunity to indicate their willingness to participate in further in-person feedback panels. While such a program would require significant resources to organize, panels or interviews can be prioritized for critical courses within a major or courses with a significant proportion of negative feedback. In-person discussions where administrators can request specific, actionable changes to course structure or teaching methods would yield much more useful feedback than text boxes and agree-to-disagree scales.
These changes would represent a significant departure from the existing course review model. However, for an institution that prides itself on undergraduate education, they can’t come quickly enough.
More from The Rice Thresher
Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.
This week marks the last issue of the Thresher for the year, and for the seniors like myself, our last issue ever. I have been a part of the Thresher since freshman year. And it would not be an exaggeration to say it has defined my Rice experience. As someone pursuing a career in journalism after graduation, there has been no better place to learn than at this paper.
In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.