The Bowdoin “Comment Card” System
Comment Cards are an effective tool in supporting our students’ academic success. They are electronic (e-mailed) notices sent by course instructors to provide feedback directly to a student, and copied to the student’s advisor and dean, who may then help connect the student with appropriate support and campus resources. Comment Cards should not be a surprise. As an instructor noting concern, you are encouraged to use them as a follow up to a discussion or communication (or lack thereof) that you have already had with the student. They should also not be used to convey mental health concerns nor to suggest that a student get accommodations. In those situations, a phone call to the student’s dean is the appropriate route.
The Comment Card system is available through “My Class Lists” in the Faculty page of Polaris. You simply click on the little yellow “card” icon beside the student’s name and the correctly addressed comment-card/e-mail appears ready for you to type.[i]
Comment Cards are intended to support a student’s academic success; they are not meant to be punitive. The assigned dean for each student finds them to be extremely helpful in assessing broader concerns about the student’s experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, and in helping connect the student to appropriate support and resources.
A Little History
A few years ago, the deans in the Office of the Dean of Students were concerned by a series of semesters in which many students, whose grades put them up for “action” (probation, suspension, or dismissal),[ii] had received no Comment Card in their courses before receiving Ds and Fs. Efforts were made at that time to encourage instructor use of Comment Cards; consequently, their usage increased and fewer students now receive a D or F in a course without a Comment Card earlier. More significantly, increased Comment Card usage has corresponded with a decline in the number of students who come up for action.
Comment Cards can be positive, complimenting students on their performance. Note: We often use them for 1st year students after a first big assignment or test.
More often, Comment Cards are used when a student is struggling or not meeting expectations. We appreciate that it is difficult to write something negative to a student; some faculty choose to simply state a grade compared to the class average. Many take the time to craft thoughtful language. Please see some suggestions below.
In these pandemic times, we as instructors have offered, and students have often asked for, quite a bit of “flexibility” in deadlines. In many cases last year, students’ compounding requests for flexibility resulted in them not having time to finish all the course work before the end of the semester. We ask that if a student is requesting flexibility for deadlines or assessments, please record that in a Comment Card.
If you are not sure about whether you should write a comment card, call the student’s dean and ask. They are more than happy to talk it through with you.
Here are some suggestions and considerations for writing a Comment Card:
- Address it to the student, and feel free to acknowledge that the Comment Card is copied to their advisor, dean, and athletic coach (if applicable).
- Be specific, when possible. If you fill in a sentence like “I am concerned about… [your understanding of this concept, your continued tardiness with assignments, your attendance, etc.],” this gives the student and the dean more concrete pieces to talk about and work through.
- Refer to previous conversations if relevant. Often a Comment Card is a reinforcement (and record) of a discussion that already happened between instructor and student. You may want to start with “As we spoke of the other day…” and you can be clear in saying something like “I want to loop in your advisor and dean so they can offer support and additional resources.”
- Use Comment Cards for inconsistent class attendance. It can be especially helpful for deans to know if a student is not showing up regularly.
- Be careful about framing a message related to non-academic resources. Remind a student that many sources of support are available on campus, but please let the deans delve into specifics around counseling or medical resources.
Finally, please remember that there are two great advantages to sending Comment Cards: The biggest plus is that if we use them consistently when they are needed, the student’s advisor and dean gain a helpful pattern of the student’s performance. Students who struggle in one class often struggle in another. The second plus is that if you send a Comment Card early – based on whatever evidence concerns you, even if you do not yet have a full-fledged exam or paper – deans and advisors can catch concerns early in the semester and guide students to resources as well as support them in navigating an effective path forward.
We appreciate you thinking about how you can use this system to share information regarding students in your classes.
If you have any questions about comment cards, please contact Kathleen King, in the Office of the Dean of Students at firstname.lastname@example.org or 725-3879.
If you have any difficulty sending a comment card, please contact the IT help line at email@example.com or 725-3030.
[i] More detailed instructions can be found at https://www.bowdoin.edu/registrar/polaris-guides/comment-cards.html (These instructions are also in the “Quick Links” menu of your faculty page in Polaris.) Note: If you use the Apple “Mail” program, you will need to change the semi-colons between e-mail addresses to commas for the e-mail to work.
[ii] See the Bowdoin College Catalogue and Academic Handbook section on Satisfactory Academic Progress https://bowdoin-public.courseleaf.com/academic-standards-regulations/ (about halfway down the webpage).