Undergrad Ed Group Debates Accessibility of Q Difficulty Scores

Students, faculty, and administrators debated how to improve the Q Guide’s difficulty rating, an online metric on Harvard’s course evaluation tool that has been a recent source of tension between students and administrators, at the semester’s final Committee on Undergraduate Education meeting on Wednesday.

Following a Faculty Council decision made last year, students will no longer have access to their peers’ responses to the course difficulty rating question on the Q beginning next semester. The data will still be made available to faculty members.

On Wednesday, CUE members discussed how best the Q could clearly convey information about the relative difficulty of a course and whether it should ask students to comment on a course’s difficulty at all.

At the end of the meeting, committee members agreed that the four undergraduates who attended should compile a list of three or four questions related to course difficulty—such as course organization, workload, and time commitment—that they would like to see administered with the Q survey at the end of each semester. The committee tasked the students with compiling those questions by the group’s next meeting in February, but Brett M. Biebelberg ’16, an Undergraduate Council representative who is on the CUE, said he would like “some movement” sooner.

“We want to move as quickly as possible because we don’t want to give the impression that the administration can sit on this and wait it out,” Biebelberg said after the meeting.


Already, half a year has transpired since Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris announced that the Q guide would no longer publicly display difficulty scores. More than a year has passed since the Faculty Council officially approved the changes in September 2o13.

Despite student backlash at the decision, the Faculty Council has not formally discussed additional changes to the Q this semester, according to Computer Science lecturer Henry H. Leitner, who sits on the Council and CUE.

At their meeting Wednesday, committee members questioned the discrepancy between the Q data that is available to students and faculty members. Administrators pulled up a page on the Q Guide from biological sciences professor Daniel E. Lieberman’s spring 2014 course Life Sciences 2: “Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy” to show what faculty members see when they log in to the Q.

Faculty members, unlike students, can view the individual comments students write in response to the Q’s many short answer questions. Students can see their peers’ responses to just one such question: “What would you like to tell future students about this class?” Faculty members can also sort comments according to various course rating data.

At their meeting Wednesday, a plurality of CUE members agreed that administrators should give students access to most, if not all, of the data that faculty members can see.

According to Biebelberg, the UC may consider polling students over the next three months about what kind of questions they want to see asked on the Q. There will also be a referendum question on the UC’s upcoming presidential election ballot about the difficulty score.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.