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Gates: Spend time reading CTECs

Matt Gates, Columnist

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As we prepare to make our class selections for Winter Quarter next week, NU students are again faced with the quarterly decision of what courses to sign up for. Given the wide variety of course offerings at NU, this can often be a difficult decision.

Luckily, NU provides its students with resources to help guide students through this decision, one of which is the database of CTECs available on CAESAR, the school’s student information portal. NU students often reference CTECs around the time when they are choosing courses. We urge each other that one professor has particularly poor CTECs or rattle off the numerical ratings of the “effectiveness of the course in challenging you intellectually” and “stimulating your interest in the subject” to try and guide us toward a decision.

I have found looking at CTECs to be extremely worthwhile but also far more time-consuming than I expected. Although numerical ratings of certain qualities provide a snapshot of what students thought of a course, they by no means provide a full view of what students thought of a course and why. Students should remember to take as much time as possible to fully analyze why other students rated a course the way they did before deciding whether or not to take the course.

Numerical ratings of “the course overall” and “the instructor overall” are of limited use without explanation. Many of the CTECs on CAESAR criticize a professor for focusing on certain elements of the course subject rather than others, like a foreign language course focusing disproportionately on reading and writing versus speaking and listening. However, given that professors have only 12 weeks on the quarter system to cover what is often a large topic, this is not surprising. Reading the comments in full and mulling them over allows a student to determine what aspects of a subject are emphasized in a certain course. Earlier in my NU experience, I was one of many students who took a class and was disappointed that it was not what I had thought it would be. CTECs can help us know what we are going to learn in a course before we take it.

Ratings of a professor are also far less useful than the comments about his or her teaching style. Every student has his or her own style of learning, and a professor’s teaching style may better align with the preferences of some students than others. An overall rating of an instructor is less useful than knowledge of that instructor’s teaching style. By considering what students did or did not like about a professor, a student decides whether to take a course with that professor.

Not only is it important to look beyond the numerical ratings of CTECs, it is also useful to consider the comments on courses that are offered during future quarters as well as ones offered during the current quarter. For instance, if many or a few different courses fulfill a requirement, students can use CTECs for courses offered in future quarters to determine if they would like to fulfill a requirement during the current quarter or during a future quarter. Likewise, if a student must take a certain course to fulfill a requirement, he or she can decide when to take it based on the comments about the professor that is teaching it during certain quarters.

Looking at CTECs is a great way to make course decisions, but time and effort are required to use this information as effectively as possible. So remember to take some time out of your weekend to make your next quarter as good as it can be.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at matthewgates2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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