This article stimulates innovative student thinking: 5 strongly agree: 4 agree: 3 neutral: 2 disagree: 1 strongly disagree.

When the teachers pass out those course evaluation sheets about this time of the year, some students groan and others eagerly scribble down comments in hopes their voice will be heard. But is their voice heard? Do teachers and administrators even care about the results of the sheets?

Andy Sheppard, vice president for academic affairs, believes the course evaluations are important to improve how classes are taught. “The evaluations give the school and individual teachers a way to determine if their classes actually taught the students what they needed to know,” he said.

Teachers take a similar evaluation for the course and if the teacher’s and the students’ evaluations match up, it shows the professor and his or her students are on the same page about the course. As a whole Southwestern scores about a 67 percent in what the professors think their courses accomplished compared to what the students thought the same course accomplished.

“This is abnormally high for an institution,” said Sheppard.

Teachers typically do not hand out the evaluations to every class. “The reason is to prevent over assessing. If the students take the evaluations for all of their courses they wouldn’t take them very seriously,” said Sheppard.

In some cases the teachers randomly choose which classes to evaluate, but Tom Jacobs, department head of communications and computer science, said it is more methodical. “Usually teachers have their classes on a rotation, they will evaluate classes they have never taught before, and once all of their classes have been evaluated, they rotate which classes are evaluated,” he said.

After students finish with the evaluations and stuff them into a manila envelope, the sheets are mailed to the Individual Development and Educational Assessment headquarters in Manhattan. The comments are typed out to protect confidentiality. Once this is all complete the evaluations are sent back to the school.

“There is a summary of the school, and then there are the individual course summaries,” said Sheppard. Each department head receives the individual course sheets for the teachers in his or her department.

“From there the department head can either just hand the sheets back to the teachers or look them over and speak with the teachers individually,” said Jacobs.

“I am not sure about other department heads, but usually I just hand back the course evaluations to the teachers and if they want to talk about how to improve the course with me they will set up an appointment,” he said.

Jane Schlickau, professor of nursing, wants her course to be continuously evolving. She said, “Nursing students have to take a licensing exam, and it’s our goal as a nursing faculty to prepare them for that. The difficulty with the exam is that it is always changing, so we always have to change and improve our courses.”

When she receives her course evaluations she looks them over with her department head. “On the course evaluations I take the comments very seriously. Also, if the majority of the students in a class didn’t do well, I know I didn’t give them the correct information,” she said, “The evaluations are a really good tool to help improve the course.”

Schlickau wants students to understand the comments are completely confidential. She said, “Sometimes I wonder if students are afraid to be honest because they think I will know who wrote it and it will affect their grade, but it doesn’t. In truth we just want to improve the course.”

Her advice is to, “Be honest.”

Jacobs also has a concern with the evaluations. “Students should know that these are not a teacher evaluation, but rather an evaluation of the class and the information they gained from the class. The sheets are not a popularity contest,” he said.

However Schlickau thinks typically if a student likes the course they like the teacher and his or her teaching style—so in some ways they are one in the same.

They all agree the comments are the most significant piece. “Typically the comments are very thoughtful,” said Sheppard.

“Comments tend to give the best insight. If a student is going to take the time to write out their opinion, I am going to seriously consider what they have to say,” said Jacobs.

When writing comments Schlickau said to suggest ways of develop the class, or point out why the course was helpful. “It does not directly affect you as a student, since the students have already taken the course. I think students do care about the next group that is going to take the course,” she said.