New course evaluation system debuts at Detroit Mercy

At the end of this fall semester, course evaluations at the University of Detroit Mercy will be changing.

According to Dr. Matthew Mio, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, the changing of course evaluations were inspired by a recent study. The study involved two teachers, one female and one male, who taught the same exact course. Data showed that the female professor was getting worse course evaluations based on her gender.

“Scientists knew what the outcome was going to be,” Mio said. “The perception of having a female teacher was enough for the students to be more critical and more negative.”

In hopes of cultivating genuine student feedback, the objective for the improved course evaluations is to emphasize student reflections on their experiences during the course, rather than their opinions on the instructor.

“It forces the student into a little bit more of a reflective mode,” Mio said. “We are going to use the questions to train the students to give us the best feedback to make us better professors, and to make the course a better place to learn from.”

In the past the course evaluation questions were not reflective of the students learning. Instead of the questions being factual, they were more reporting. The feedback professors were getting from the course evaluation was more about how much the students disliked the professor, rather than what the professor can do to change.

“Some students have become used to trashing a professor at the end of a course, and they are going to want to have that chance,” Provost Pamala Zarkowski said. “We are now going to be changing it to say, ‘What did you do? What did you take advantage of? Can you reflect on your own learning?’”

There will be a transitioning period with the new evaluations. There will still be a chance to say that your professor was targeting students in unfair ways, or having a professor that is not as experienced. The main thing Dr. Mio wants to change is that the last thing he wants to see is a female or professor of color be treated unfairly simply based on those criteria.

“We are very interested in student feedback,” Mio said. “We will never know what is going on in the classroom without student feedback. What we are trying to do and it is going to be difficult but we are ready for the challenge. We are going to reroute course and instructor evaluations and rebrand them into what we are going to call student reflections on their own learning. Was the syllabus helpful to you in this course? Did you find the things that were posted online improved your learning?”

The questions will be more reflective, and the evaluation will be shorter. By doing this it will help the professors and the university figure out what they can do to provide more adequate teaching that will help students learn better within their courses. With a change in format, there is a hope that it will lead to better responses from the students.

Zarkowski said, “We want more people to fill it out. If it is shorter, maybe people will be more honest with their answers.”