Faculty, students to discuss supplies costs question for new course evaluation software

Peter Kotecki, Development and Recruitment Editor

When a group of faculty, students and administrators meet next year to discuss changes to the Course and Teacher Evaluation Council system, they will consider adding a question asking students to report how much they spent on course materials.

This quarter’s CTECs will be formatted the same as usual, but Northwestern is still adding classes to a new course and teacher evaluation software pilot, said University registrar Jacqualyn Casazza. The software, Blue, will replace NU’s old system for CTEC. Blue has more flexibility in formatting and more advanced reporting capabilities, she said.

Casazza said administrators want to have a good understanding of Blue before making changes to CTECs.

“We wanted to make sure that we knew what the options were before we decided what changes we wanted to make, because, of course, the available options might influence how we ask the questions,” she said.

The group will also review recommendations from the 2015 Faculty Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Experience, Casazza said. Among other things, the task force recommended that the University require instructors to announce course materials before class registration.

To help students know about course expenditures, CTECs could include a section asking how much students spent on course materials, said Ron Braeutigam, associate provost for undergraduate education. He said it helps to hear about cost from students who have already completed a particular course, as it is difficult for professors to determine how much a student will spend on course materials.

Braeutigam, for example, teaches an economics course and said students can get several different versions of the same textbook, each of which has a different price.

The new CTECs question could be similar to an existing section that asks students how much time they spent on the course, he said.

“I think we could add something like that that would give students a much better picture of expenditures,” Braeutigam said.

Casazza said administrators have discussed the idea of asking students how much they spent on course materials. However, a decision has not yet been made, she said.

The question could help students know how much to spend even if they don’t know exactly which textbooks they will need before course registration, Braeutigam said. Although a federal law requires professors to disclose textbooks prices “to the maximum extent practicable” in advance of course registration, he said it is sometimes difficult to do so.

Braeutigam himself was unable to disclose course materials prior to registration for a freshman seminar he taught because the textbook he wanted to use was supposed to be published near the start of the quarter.

“I held off on ordering books until I knew whether it was going to be published or not,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, the registrar is working with department chairs and other administrators on providing textbook information earlier than before, Braeutigam said.

If students know which textbooks they will need, they can shop around and find the best deals, he said.

“What we are going to try to do in the best way possible is to get the departments to provide that information in a more timely fashion,” Braeutigam said.

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