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Historical Background

Brief background of course evaluations at McGill

In 1980 Senate passed a set of recommendations concerning teaching evaluations. In summary, they specified among other things that there would be no uniform system of teaching evaluation, that results of the evaluations would be given to professors and reviewed by chairs, and that a wide range of student opinion would be solicited in the evaluation of teaching.

In 1992, Senate approved recommendations concerning course evaluations, which had become the principal mechanism for the evaluation of teaching. These recommendations included:

  1. course evaluations are comprised of two parts: Part I with course and instructor related questions, and Part II with specific questions concerning the course and the instructor, anecdotal data and verbatim comments.
  2. data from Part II is always regarded as confidential.
  3. Questions in Part I are answered on a scale of 1-5
  4. where no formal change in content or instructor has occurred, students have access to evaluations from previous terms.
  5. the department/school/faculty (academic unit) is responsible for the administration of course evaluations, including the placing of the evaluations in the relevant libraries.

There are numerous conditions governing access to the evaluations, of which the most important deal with issues of privacy and confidentiality. Until 2014, explicit permission was required for numerical course evaluation results to be disseminated to the McGill community. According to the revised course evaluation policy passed by Senate in April 2014, numerical course evaluation results are disseminated to the McGill community provided an instructor does not object to access and an adequate response rate is met.

In sum, McGill students have completed course evaluations for all courses regularly since 1992. A variety of questionnaires are used, and there were no common questions until the 2008 policy was approved. In some cases a Faculty sets the questionnaire content; in others, departments or schools design the content. Individual professors could in some cases add their own questions to their unit's questionnaire. Before the implementation of Mercury, access to the data was ensured by placing computer sheets with analysed data in the McLennan Library and other locations. Results are now available online through a secure sign-in procedure.