FCEs need to be made useful to students, staff

Regardless of whether students have what they believe to be either the best or worst professor in their entire academic career, it is highly unlikely that they will ever fill out the Faculty Course Evaluation (FCE) for the class unless they’re offered some highly elusive and coveted extra credit.

But that doesn’t mean that the administration is going to leave the evaluations as is. The Faculty Senate recently voted to increase the number of questions on the FCEs to 10, a number that had been lowered just a few years before.

The FCEs have the potential to serve a valuable purpose to the campus community: providing information about classes and professors that could help future students select the most rewarding classes. They were originally created with exactly this intention in mind — Pi Kappa Theta fraternity decided back in 1968 that there was a need on campus for a way to evaluate classes and professors, and thus the FCEs were born and student-run for a number of years.

At present, however, the FCEs don’t serve the purpose that they are meant to. A very small number of students actually fill them out, or if they do, they’re filling them out to get a homework grade dropped, or because they want to cause that professor as much pain as possible, and not really putting any thought into accurately evaluating the course. And an even smaller number of students actually look at these evaluations when choosing between one class or another due to the limited amount of feedback that is available for each.

So instead of changing the number of questions back and forth between two and 10 every few years, perhaps the focus should be more about the FCEs in general and how to make them useful to the students and faculty again. Regardless of how careful the selection about the number of questions is, the FCEs are still irrelevant until students actually start caring about filling them out and reading them. The questions, while important, should not be the focus of changing FCEs; the focus should be finding a better process and vendor, encouraging students to fill them out, displaying the results in a better way, and explaining why they are useful to students and professors.