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Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Critical Review?
We're glad you asked! The Critical Review is a student-run publication reviewing Brown's courses since 1976. Our reviews are by students, for students, so reach out to us at critical_review@brown.edu if you're interested in getting involved!

How is the Critical Review different from the Canvas course feedback forms?
At the end of every semester, we send students a survey to gather feedback in classes where the professor has opted-in. The following semester, our dedicated team of volunteer student writers and editors summarize the feedback into a succinct and unbiased review. Reviews are published on our website (thecriticalreview.org) and are accessible only to those with Brown credentials.

The Canvas course feedback forms, on the other hand, are sent out to students in every class by Brown's administration. The gathered feedback, like the Critical Review, is kept anonymous, but is only accessible to course instructors and other members of the teaching staff.

Why is the Critical Review opt-in for professors?
As a student organization, we must meet certain conditions as part of our agreement with Brown in order to offer reviews to students. One of these conditions is to allow professors to opt in or out each semester.

Why would a professor not want to opt in to the Critical Review?
“Findings show that instructors who are female and persons of color receive lower scores on ordinal student evaluations than those who are white males,” according to the abstract of a 2019 research paper published by Cambridge University Press.

The Critical Review constantly strives to write unbiased and accurate reviews. However, not all professors have had favorable past experiences with us and/or may choose to opt out for personal reasons. Furthermore, there exists extensive research on student biases when reviewing courses and professors concerning race, gender, appearance, speech, political opinion etc. You can read more about the existence and effects of these biases here and here.

My professor opted-in, but I don't see a review on the website!
In order to protect student anonymity, we only write reviews for courses with a minimum of three student evaluations. However, if these evaluations aren't detailed enough to write an informative and informed review (which is decided at the discretion of the review writer), we will only publish the course statistics.

Who writes the course reviews we see online? What's the process?
Student volunteers from a variety of concentrations, backgrounds, and years work hard every semester to write the reviews that are published on our website. Writers summarize student responses into a succinct and unbiased review, which gets edited by at least two editors for clarity, professionalism, and consistency. These finalized reviews then get published on our website. Check out our amazing staff here!

When are reviews written and published?
Generally, we write course reviews the semester after the course was offered, and we aim to publish these reviews before pre-registration for the following semester. Thus, the review for a Fall 2021 course would be published during Spring 2022, prior to the pre-registration deadline for Fall 2022 courses.

As a student, should I join the Critical Review?
Yes! There's no application to become a writer, and it's a great way to learn more about the classes offered at Brown. Your reviews are crucial to helping us provide this service to Brown students year after year. We couldn't do it without people like you!

How can I join?
We welcome new members to join our various teams at the beginning of every semester. For relevant information, keep an eye out in Today@Brown or subscribe to our listserv here. Make sure to log-in with your Brown credentials! You can also email us at critical_review@brown.edu to be added to the listserv.

We have four teams you can join: Writers & Editors, Professor Outreach, Data Analysis, and Website.

Writers and editors are responsible for creating the finalized reviews published on our website. They attend an orientation every semester as a training (for new members) or a refresher (for returning members) on how to write and edit a review. As needed (usually every Fall), we send out applications to become an editor or executive editor, open to members who have worked with us for at least one semester.

Since we operate on an opt-in basis, the Professor Outreach team contacts professors and informs them of our work. The goal is to increase the number of professors who opt in and, in turn, the number of CR reviews on our website!

Members of the Data Analysis team use anonymous data collected from years of course evaluations to propose and study data-related projects. Past projects investigated gender-based bias in professor ratings as well as the rate of class attendance in different departments (the number of evaluation respondents was taken as attendance since our evaluations used to be in class, on paper). Since these projects have largely been exploratory, we have not made the findings publicly available.

The Website team is responsible for maintaining our website and dealing with the raw data from student evaluations in order for our writers to read and access it easily. We're always looking for first-years and sophomores in particular to continue this work!


How many reviews does each writer write?
We understand that writers have outside commitments when working with us. We encourage writers to sign up for 4-8 reviews each semester, but each writer may write as few or many reviews as they wish.

My question wasn't answered!
Reach out to us at critical_review@brown.edu and we'll get back to you with a response as soon as we can!

Don't see your question answered here? Please feel free to reach out to critical_review@brown.edu!