Wednesday, June 11, 2008


What exactly do SA guide reviews tell us?

Full disclosure: I was not in the specific class I speak of... and its a very specific case of a certain type of review. I feel most reviews are very helpful.

But without further or do.....

Like any other Dartmouth student, I often rely on Student Assembly Reviews to guide me through selecting courses. I often read a lot into other students' comments. I'm unhappy when courses that look interesting to me are not reviewed... and I'm kinda even more upset when the reviews are lacking substance (you know the ones that say "great class" and that's all).

But I'm beginning to learn something, I should have learned much earlier.... student assembly reviews are extraordinarily biased (as the SA says so)... towards the positive and negative. Let's face it, most people are not like me (who reviews every course with zeal.... and probably too many words). Most only will review if they had a great or awful experience.

A bad grade is not something that most people find to be disturbing. It's not something that will make someone go online and write a review about. Bad reviews usually come from courses where too much work is assigned, but most often are from classes where professors have no clue what they are doing ("awful lecturer").

Good reviews, on the other hand, can come from great classes.... or just ones where it is easy to get a good grade (let's face it... if you get a good grade, you will probably think the class is better.... it's difficult to separate the two). They can also come from easy classes.

To me, this is a somewhat disaster waiting to happen. What happens if you get a course where the teacher puts together good lectures, doesn't have a ton of work, but the class is very difficult? Well you get a ton of good reviews that don't reflect the difficulty of the class.

I do of course talk from personal experience. When a class is relatively easy for me, I say so. When a class is hard, I also say so. Unfortunately, many people didn't write reviews for the latter saying it was difficult despite a pretty low median grade. I know the class was difficult for many people with a low median grade. I don't believe the class was filled with a bunch of slackers. Yet, the reviews rarely reflected the difficulty of the class (basically saying, "if you just try hard, you'll do well"). Of course, these reviews are coming from the kids who did well (full disclosure, I'm guilty of this).

My personal favorite are the reviews from a certain class taught this spring... Everything about the reviews are glowing... They basically say "read the questions carefully and everything will be fine". Not a single thing about how hard the course is except to say that those reports are overblown...

The median for the spring semester was a B-.... which for those unfamiliar with Dartmouth is nearly unheard of... even in the sciences.

The reason? Not a lot of work, nice prof, good lecturer.... but of course, the class seems very difficult... which doesn't come out in the reviews.

I guess I can say its lucky that the median grade is posted with the class. But even so, something tells me that the comments play a very large part.

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