Pub Crawl: The classy Critical Review

Blog on Pubs debuts this semester with a significantly cooler (and punnier) name: Pub Crawl. At Brown there is, if you haven’t noticed, a healthy abundance of student publications. While you’re already reading one of the very best, this series aims to highlight other noteworthy pubs that may have otherwise escaped your valuable attention. (Email if you’d like your current student pub featured!) 

Still deciding between that hyped-up lecture and that apparently interesting but obscure seminar? During shopping period, you might feel overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice. Sure, you can turn to faculty/peer advisers, friends, crowd-sourcing comparison on Best of Brown (launched last semester and since updated), rando-stalking, or a Magic 8-Ball, but when it comes to real talk re: profs and assignments, first-years will quickly realize and Brown returnees should know by now that nothing beats Critical Review.

Since 1976, CR has compiled anonymous student responses to questionnaires distributed in participating classes at the end of each semester. It’s basically Zagat for Brown academics. Conveniently, you can search the site for courses and/or instructors, which is handy when you want to try out different sections. The written review covers curricular content, prereqs, teaching style, workload, and suggestions to shoppers based on collective opinion.

On the quantitative side, CR asks students to provide numerical ratings 1 – 4 to indicate degree of agreement with positive statements about class satisfaction, such as, “I learned a lot from instructor” and “I loved what I got out of course.” A lower number signifies stronger agreement, meaning that 1 is awesome and 4 is unacceptable.

Averages for general evaluation of both instruct0r and course are given, but what may be more useful is the bar graph found on the second tab of a course’s review page that represents variation in the specific assessments. Here, the dark-green portion symbolizes the percentage of “1”s (good); red is the percentage of “4”s (bad). Responses of N/A are shown as a blank space to the right of the bar.

Example graph. Think of the bars as traffic lights telling you whether to go to the class or stop wasting your time

Finally, CR collects class member demographics — year, concentrator status, grade option, and whether the class was taken to as a requirement — reported in the form of colorful pie charts on a third tab.

Obviously, actually attending a class is the only way to get a true feel for it for yourself, but given the wisdom of the crowd, CR can help you narrow down your bloated Banner cart that would anger a bull into charging with its time conflicts, so you can focus on selecting from the highest-rated potential candidates. And it holds instructors accountable by providing feedback on how to improve future classes. Not all instructors take part in the CR process, so there is missing and imperfect data. But survey says, everyone’s a critic — yay  for combating information asymmetry!

Where to get it: Online

When to get it: Beginning of preregistration period each semester (mid-October and mid-April)

Recommended read: Occasional hidden gems of scathing wit in the written review in the form of a quotation from a disgruntled student’s response #anhonesty

Get involved/in touch: Write for it. Email it. Like it on Facebook.

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