Evaluating database drawbacks

Courtesy of spu.edu

For most students, choosing courses each semester at UR is a decision that involves significant thought. While websites such as ratemyprofessor.com are popular for helping students decide on a course based on the ratings and critiques of a professor, that information is often limited or, for some professors, completely nonexistent.

Although UR has a system in place to fill this void — a database of past course evaluations located on Blackboard — the database needs improvement to better serve and inform students. UR solicits valuable and pertinent information from students each semester via course evaluations and compiles the numerical results of these evaluations into the database. This trove of information, however, could be improved by the addition of comments already solicited on course evaluations. An important aspect of the course evaluations is that comments are anonymous; in order to preserve this fundamental concept, there could be an option for students to select whether they want their comments anonymously published in the database or not.

Last spring, UR switched the vendor they used for the database because of a need to convert input from course evaluations into “something more than raw data” with a “more user friendly interface,”  according to University Registrar and Assistant Dean Nancy Speck, who said that UR intends to maintain at least four years of data on the site. The change to a new vendor should be lauded, but the switch does not improve the fact that the database still only contains data; comments add a more humanized component and can therefore often be more helpful to students who are trying to decide on a course.

Currently, the primary issue with the course evaluation database, however, is the fact that many UR students do not even know that it exists. The University registrar sends out a series of  communications to alert students about the need to complete course evaluations, but does not mention the existence of this database in this correspondence. It is mentioned in some emails alerting students about dates of course registration each term, but this is inconsistent. Especially for freshmen and other new students, communication and a greater effort to publicize the database is vital.

The database could also be better advertised by placing a link to it in a more highly trafficked area like the Blackboard homepage, rather than under the “Student Access” tab where it is currently located. Information about arguably the most important aspect of the UR experience — academic classes — is too valuable not to be better advertised. The decision to switch to a new vendor and the administration’s seeming desire to generate more traffic to the database, as evidenced by the change in vendor, makes it even more essential to better communicate and publicize it.



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