Columbia University Information Technology is working on a new course evaluation platform that aims to make it easier for departments to release results to the student body, School of Engineering and Applied Science Vice Dean Soulaymane Kachani announced at Monday’s Engineering Student Council meeting.
Maneesha Aggarwal, CUIT director of teaching and learning applications, said on Tuesday that her department is currently working and testing the new platform with various schools in the University. The new platform will be integrated into CourseWorks and the directory of classes. However, individual departments will still decide if they will release the data and what data to release.
“The respective school administrations have the ability to test, evaluate, and potentially adapt the functionality for opening course evaluations,” Aggarwal said in an email. “We will continue to work with the schools on testing, and collaborate on a release date.”
Economics department head Susan Elmes said the current tool for collecting and releasing course evaluations is not very easy to use, which can discourage some departments from releasing evaluations. The economics department started releasing course evaluations in February 2012.
“There is nothing technical preventing any faculty member or department from publishing course evaluations at this time,” Elmes said in an email. “However, the current tool to do so is not user friendly. Thus we generally only publish evaluations over the summer when there is some free staff time to do so.”
The announcement comes nearly two years after the University Senate passed a resolution calling for open course evaluations, a topic that was hotly debated among students and faculty. While the new platform will only be another way for instructors to collect and view evaluations, it does address some of the concerns raised in 2012.
“The big roadblock for a lot of the schools was the technology back end to be able to have course evaluations be public,” University Senator Akshay Shah, SEAS ’14, said. “And the key concern there was you can’t just release the numbers and obviously the comments because there are some comments that are not very well-considered, so you don’t want that happening—you need to have some formal system that allows for some filtering.”
Aggarwal said that instructors will not have the ability to remove comments or other information, but if they have a concern about a specific comment, they can raise it with the school administration and request that it be removed.
“At the school level, an individual school may choose to only share quantitative results and not to make any qualitative data available,” Aggarwal said.
“It is a fantastic tool,” Kachani said. “The senate has done a great work, but what is really interesting is that the provost was really very supportive about this and spoke very much in its favor.”