Lost in Cyberspace

Yuiko Sugino/Guardian

ON CAMPUS — Before making any commitments on WebReg, students try to find out which professors give easy ‘A’s, whose lectures are worth listening to and what sort of workload to expect. But now that UCSD’s most reliable evaluation service has moved its surveys online, students may soon be picking their classes in the dark.

This quarter, due to funding cuts from UCSD’s Course and Professor Evaluation program, students will assess their professors in an online survey instead of in the lecture hall.

The new C.A.P.E. system might save some paper, but a more casual online presence might make its existence — and the efforts of all those involved — entirely pointless.

In the past, every student who happened to show up to lecture the day C.A.P.E. evaluations were administered would voluntarily take a few moments to tell the program what they thought of the class. It was a way to ensure that every type of student — from sleepy slacker to eager-eyed overachiever — had a voice in the system.

The online version guarantees a slant in the turnout. While we all find plenty of time stalk perfect strangers and watch videos of angry babies online, we often don’t fill out the gobs of monotonous surveys that flood our ACS accounts. Taking the time to fill out online C.A.P.E. evaluations won’t be any different. It’s a lot easier to ignore an e-mail — or simply click “delete” — than brush off the fellow student handing you a C.A.P.E. form (and giving you the evil eye until you fill it out).

Even C.A.P.E. Director Alan Lam said that participation will plummet.

In order for C.A.P.E. results to be accurate, they should reflect a slice of students that attended the class. When the questionnaire goes digital, it runs the risk that every voluntary survey poses: Only those with strong opinions — whether it’s the puppy-dog brown-noser or the asshole who wants revenge for his ‘F’ — will participate.

With the change of venue, C.A.P.E. won’t have much advantage over RateMyProfessors.com, where opinions are typically concentrated at extreme ends of the spectrum. The students who write on RateMyProfessors.com either have a huge vendetta to fulfill or couldn’t get enough of the Dimensions of Culture series; what’s made C.A.P.E. so valuable in the past, however, is that it sampled everyone — including those who fall in the middle who might, for instance, help determine how many hours of work the course requires.

Though the age-old raffle strategy works for some orgs, C.A.P.E.’s one-in-60 chance at a $10 Triton Cash gift certificate probably won’t convince anyone to take a 10-minute survey.

One way to eliminate the apparently costly runners would be to pair the C.A.P.E. program with individual departments. The chemistry department, among others, already has its own separate evaluation that professors distribute. It wouldn’t be a big stretch to simply require that professors hand out C.A.P.E. evaluations and return them to the department.

After all, CAPE isn’t just for students; professors, too, often use their evaluations as letters of recommendation as they move to other universities. The forms are already anonymous, anyway, so there’s no need to worry a professor would see.

Even though C.A.P.E. is planning on partnering with the A.S. Council to spread student awareness for the new online system, there is no amount of fliers or booths on Library Walk that will be able to ensure the high participation rate the program currently boasts. While C.A.P.E. may be taking a step in eco-friendliness by going digital, it’s taking two costly steps back in thoroughness and accuracy.

Readers can contact Cheryl Hori at [email protected].

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