Condemning needs to end in order to evaluate courses transparently. Learn why.

In monthly meetings, the Study Programme Committee (Dutch acronym: OC) of Biosciences at the Radboud University discusses the noticeable trends and signals in student evaluations and the annual national student survey. Additionally, they discuss the signals picked up by members of other committees or the participation council, as well as signals picked up in informal settings. How does the OC process this information? How do they create an impact?

We provide unsolicited advice
The OC views the curricular renovation of the bachelor programme as an opportunity. Hence, we do not merely wait in anticipation of the first version of the renovated curriculum. Instead, we adopt an active attitude, composing a letter via the Programme Director to the future Curriculum Committee concerning current issues. In the renovated curriculum, these issues should be dealt with. To the letter, we attach a list with suggestions for improvement, such as ‘reinforcing education in quantitative skills (mathematics, statistics)’, or ‘providing more opportunities for students to prepare themselves for/ orientate themselves in a professional career.’  The moment the Curriculum Committee starts its task, the chair is invited to join a meeting with the OC in which agreements are made on the provision of advice (and the timing thereof) by the OC. By adopting this active attitude, we maximise our influence on the quality of education.

We monitor poorly evaluated courses
Another example: naturally, in cases of large-scale quality issues, the OC informs and advises the director of education to take action. However, we also like to put pressure on issues that, at first glance, may seem less important. In case a teacher turns out to reflect insufficiently on their course after a critical course evaluation, involving the action of the director of education would perhaps be a too onerous. In such a situation, we approach teachers ourselves. We request the teacher to respond accordingly to the open evaluation points. The OC acts in a constructive manner: to us, it does not matter whether the teacher has knowingly or unknowingly disregarded the course evaluation. What matters is that the quality cycle is fulfilled and all points of improvement are actively dealt with.

Formally address a person in breach of their duty
After the completion of a course, all students receive – via the OC – not only a student evaluation, but also a teacher evaluation and the resulting assessment. This open and critical way of interacting requires mutual input. All people involved in the evaluation process need to utilize their freedom of expression in a serious and respectful manner.  It has occurred that students (as a collective body, since their evaluations are anonymous) or teachers have been addressed by the OC about their use of language in their feedback. Fortunately, this is rarely necessary. In such a situation, we once again explain the fruitful potential of public feedback. After an initial period of reluctance, we notice things go more smoothly. Our experience tells us that transparency stimulates involvement and consequently quality (assurance).

“Open and honest evaluation of courses, comes with a duty to express oneself in a respectful manner”.