The Student Government Association (SGA) will launch MiddCourses, a new site for students and professors to view course evaluations. The site will be open to all students in early April, after spring break.
“The point of this project is to create a better platform on which students can share course evaluations,” said SGA President Rachel Liddell ’15, who has been seeking sources for more reliable and consistent student reviews beyond Rate My Professor and MiddKid.com since her election last spring.
“There is pretty significant sentiment that [MiddKid] falls short of what people want,” Liddell said. “The data are out of date, and it’s not a visually clean site.”
Once MiddCourses launches, students will log into the site with their College email addresses. In order to see reviews, students will be required to submit two evaluations per semester.
“In that manner, people who want to use the data will also have to contribute to the data,” Liddell said.
Instead of having users manually enter in names of classes and professors, MiddCourses automatically adds classes being offered in the next semester to its database. This is intended to prevent the misspellings and inaccuracies found on MiddKid.com.
Liddell also noted that reviews on MiddKid and Rate My Professor tend to be polarized and unrealistic.
“A lot of the reviewers are either really angry or really happy,” she said. “[The submission requirement] will help keep the polarization issue at bay.”
In addition, MiddCourses will make helpful reviews more visible to users. Entries will be reviewed and extremely negative and unhelpful reviews will have the potential to be removed.
“We want to encourage respectful, high-quality comments and reviews,” SGA Director of Technology Dana Silver ’16 said.
Silver has been working closely with Liddell and Teddy Knox ’15 on the development of MiddCourses since September. In its early stages, they knew they wanted to make the site something the entire student body could contribute to.
“We decided to make the website open source,” Silver said. When a website is open-source, students will be able to see the code running on the site, download that code and contribute to it.
“Say a student notices a bug on the website,” Silver said. “If the student wanted to, [he or she] could go online and copy the source code to their computer, fix or patch the bug, and then open a pull request against our code. If we approve the code, then we would merge it into the site.”
The open-source code and student contributions work to make MiddCourses something that students feel they have ownership of, for it will be constantly evolving to provide the type of information that students are looking for.
“This is something that students have been wanting for a while now, in terms of having more transparency related to classes,” SGA Chief of Staff Jake Nonweiler ’14 said. “It started out as wanting to have course evaluation forms at the end of every semester released to students, but that’s not going to happen and will not happen.”
The development of MiddCourses has made some members of the faculty uneasy.The SGA is working to combat and clear up such concerns.
“The Faculty Council doesn’t really believe that publicizing the reviews is a good idea,” Nonweiler said. “As it works currently, the only people who have access to the course evaluations we fill out at the end of every semester are the professors for the course being evaluated, the chair of the department, and a few members of the administration. They’re very highly guarded.”
Likewise, the implementation of the site has not been met with administrative support.
“The Administration repeatedly advised the SGA not to pursue the idea of a course evaluation site. They do not support the implementation of the site,” Liddell added.
To appease the faculty, professors will have access to MiddCourses, but in a very limited capacity.
“It works very similarly to how the paper reviews [at the end of every semester] work now, where professors can’t view reviews for other professors,” Silver said. “They can log on, but they can’t create reviews and they are limited to viewing only reviews for their own courses.”
Liddell further explained the limited faculty access by noting that student reviews should not play a role in tenure decisions.
MiddCourses will be undergoing a soft launch, fine-tuning and preparing itself for class registration later this spring.
“The site is just better-looking and more fun to use,” said Liddell. “We’re hoping there will be a desire [among students] to read reviews, write reviews and be a part of it.”