Course Evaluation Guides perform important services for all members of a collegiate community: students, administrators, and faculty.
For students, the guide reports accurately and unbiasedly the experiences of their peers as a critical aid for use in course selection. In addition to including, for example, whether or not respondents determine the course texts to be well-chosen, a narrative review of a course can also include what qualifications potential students should have, whether or not the course earns the overall recommendation of those responding, and other useful information to which students would not otherwise have access. The guide also serves to supplement the only other means by which students can find out about courses: the usually biased and often unreliable "word of mouth" approach.
For administrators, the decision to produce a course evaluation guide is a decision to provide students with a more balanced delivery of information than that conventional "word of mouth" mechanism cited above. At the same time, the guide sends a positive message to students, that the administration cares (1) about providing its students with all the information they need for informed decision-making, and (2) about what its students have to say about the quality of their classroom experiences.
The faculty who agree to participate in the evaluation process and to have the results of their evaluations published in the guide are likewise sending a message to students, of their concern for what those students have to say and of their own commitment to improvements in the quality of their course offerings. By participating in the evaluative process, the faculty also have the chance to advertise under-publicized courses the enrollments of which they want to expand. Most importantly, faculty can offset the ever-present rumors and other misinformation about their courses when the guide publishes its even-handed and objective course reviews. The reviews register the opinions of all of a course's students, not just one or two vocal detractors. Given our rigorous editorial standards, our course evaluation guide promises faculty the kind of fair and even-handed review which no other information source can provide.
For another response to this question, please read a letter from Dean Lawrence Buell, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard University, whose office sponsors the production of Harvard's course evaluation guide.