Does It Actually Help?

Course Evaluation Improves Course Design

By Ellie Hsu | Campus | November 19, 2021

Cover Illustration: Girl filling course evaluation. Anabella Villanueva / The Amsterdammer

Campus Reporter Ellie Hsu sheds light on the Program Committee who works with professors to incorporate the feedback from the course evaluations that UvA students are hesitant to fill out.

At the University of Amsterdam, professors and lecturers ask students to fill in a course evaluation form when a course comes to an end. These course evaluations are then sent to the Program Committee (PC) and the professors of the courses to be reviewed. However, many students at the UvA do not have a clear understanding of how the course evaluations work, nor of the functions of the Program Committee. 

Students’ lack of understanding of the importance and effectiveness of the evaluation on the course design can be reflected in the amount of feedback being submitted. Several anonymous students studying at the UvA, from majors including Business Administration, Communication Science and Media and Culture, said they usually don’t fill in the course evaluation because they doubt that the PC and the professors will actually evaluate this feedback.

According to Sofia Quinones-Vilela, a 22-year-old third-year Communication Science student, who is also a student representative of the Program Committee, less than 50% of all students in her program fill in the course evaluations. Even though the number of responses differs per course, they have never had a high percentage of students fill in the evaluation. 

It might help if students first understand who the Program Committee is and what they do. According to Sofia, the Program Committee is made up of student representatives and lecture representatives (professors) that work together at eye level. The student representatives try their best to recruit students from different classes, years and tracks. 

Sofia notes that “as student representatives, we try to bring up issues that we keep hearing from students to the PC. […] I am only supposed to look at ways to improve the Communication Science track. I am not able to change things that are structurally integrated into the university. I can only change things that are directly affected and can be changed by our program.” 

“We [student representatives of the PC] also analyze a lot of the budgets,” Sofia added, “we look at the evaluations…we bring up the problems and we try to solve them.” 

An important thing to note is that the students’ comments on the course evaluation are only directed to professors; the student representatives can only see the data of students’ ratings. The individual comments are for the professors to analyze and benefit from, but the PC steps in when there is “a general consensus that the course is not doing well.” They analyze the data provided and if a course is doing badly, what they can do is to evaluate the course structure and see whether any adaptations ought to be made. According to Sofia, when a course has performed badly on an evaluation in the past, the committee invites the professor to discuss the possible reasons for this and to see if any solutions can be decided on. 

An example of this process is when a change in course design was implemented for the course “Communication Consultancy”. Students complained that writing a final essay was overwhelming and that they would have preferred to write an exam. As a result, this year, an exam is being held instead. 

Another example of a direct change being made by the program committee was something that came up with the Honors Program. The professors wanted to change the method used to admit honor’s students, but the student representatives believed the original method works better. “(…) Me and some other students agreed that the current method used to accept and admit honor’s students was perfectly fine and that it didn’t need any changes,” explained Sofia, “so we presented to the director and PC of Communication Science why it should remain the same way.”

Sofia’s and other student representatives’ past experiences with the PC suggest that the course evaluation is the best way to ensure that students’ opinions regarding course design are being heard. It is encouraged to reach out to the student representatives around you to discuss any issues, but the professors will need substantial data and evidence that the course is not doing well to be convinced to take definitive action. 

When asked about whether more course evaluations would be helpful for the PC, Sofia’s answer was positive: “it would be ideal if more people did the evaluations so we could have a more rounded understanding [of the concerns the students face].” 

For all UvA students who may or may not have a strong opinion towards a course design, it would be beneficial for the Program Committee and future students to spend 10 to 15 minutes of your time filling out a course evaluation. Everyone’s opinion matters, and a collective effort can help improve the university as a whole. 

“It would be ideal if more people did the evaluations so we could have a more rounded understanding [of the concerns the students face].” – Sofia Quinones-Vilela, student representative of the Communication Science program committee

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