April 6, 2020

Move to Online Evaluations?

As you probably know, the deans have expressed an interest in replacing the course evaluations that students currently complete with an online tool. Presentations were made to the faculty councils and the Academic Assembly earlier this term, and the AAUP was also asked whether it would support this change. At the first meeting of the AAUP-Management Collaboration Committee this issue was brought up, and we agreed to bring the question to the faculty.

In brief, the advantages of this change, according to the administration, include:
> Large savings in time and resources needed to administer the evaluations,
> Much cheaper processing costs
> More classes could be evaluated
> The evaluations could be completed later in the semester and the results made available sooner following the term.

Some of the concerns we have heard raised include:
> Online evaluations generally receive significantly lower response rates
> The students may not take the evaluations as seriously (think RateMyProfessor)
> Concerns about the security of collected data

Should such a change be piloted, the deans have stated that they would explicitly recognize that a new baseline for interpreting the feedback would be needed, as the data may not be directly comparable to data collected in the current format. The language in the P&P could also be strengthened in its indication that personnel decisions are not to be made on the sole basis of student evaluations.

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  1. There should be a comment section on the evaluation form for faculty/administration review. I have seen some evaluations that say “the class is too early” or “the class is too hard”. A teacher’s poor score on an evaluation such as that may not be due to poor performance by the teacher.

  2. Megan Van Wagoner says

    Online evaluations could be more valuable to both faculty and students IF the response rate is high enough and if students take them seriously. In order to encourage students to complete the evaluations, a system for rewarding participation is needed.

    I know at some schools students have access to the results of the evaluations when registering ONLY if they have completed evaluations for all their previous semester’s classes. This encourages them to add complete the evaluation in a way that would be useful to other students considering which class to take or weighing different professors teaching the same course. I think this would be a great resource for students and might actually increase our overall response rate over the current system.

  3. I think it’s important that students have a limited time (say, a week?) to answer the evaluation, and no more. I also think the online questions should include the same sort-answer questions we have now – not just multiple choice questions. And perhaps the school should require students to fill this out by not posting their grades until they do it, or maybe by giving them a small discount on fees if they do do it. It is important to have everyone participate, or else just the students who are upset will participate.

  4. Karen Penn de Martinez says

    I think this is a fine idea for classes like mine that are taught in computer lab classrooms. The instructor can leave the room while students visit the website and complete the evaluation; one student can be designated to inform the instructor when everyone is done. Absent students could receive the link by email. However, this is a problem for classes with no computer access, as completing the evaluation will be like homework – an extra “assignment” out of class for students. As others have stated, there would have to be an incentive to ensure that students do the evaluation – perhaps that of not posting grades in MyMC until complete. I’d be curious about what rates of return other institutions have had if they use such incentives.

    One of the previous comments suggested that students would have access to the results. I think you need to clarify whether this is contemplated, or would the results simply be used as they are now – communicated to the faculty member, chair, and dean?

  5. David Fallick says

    I think we should stick to the traditional way of doing evaluations. Just because something is computerized doesn’t mean it is better. And in this case, very importantly, having students do it in class ensures more privacy for the professor. No one outside of the classroom can see what the student writes. Let them do it through the Internet and they can have others look on with them or perhaps some other breach of privacy can occur. We must protect our (the faculty’s) privacy too! What’s on the evaluation is no one’s business but the individual student’s, the professor’s, and the dean’s.

  6. Online evals are more efficient. But, as commenters above have explained, professor and student privacy should be protected.

    In addition, accuracy is important. For example, I had an online evaluation for one of my online courses, and a student by mistake evaluated a completely different course! (I know this because the student commented on science labs and other items that were not in my course.) If the student isn’t physically in class when doing the evaluation, and is instead doing the evaluation online through Blackboard, it is easy for them to forget which class they are evaluating.

    PS: A suggestion for the poll – add “No with reservations”

  7. Lori Kelman says

    I think our current evaluation questions need to be re-done. The current instrument asks each question in the same way, potentially encouraging some students to check off the same statement (“agree” or whatever) all the way down the form. A better-designed survey would have a mix of questions, where “agree” meant you ‘liked’ the instructor sometimes but that you ‘disliked’ him/her others. It would allow us to question the validity of any survey that had a row of answers checked off (a ‘check question’, like “please select ‘strongly agree’ for this question”, would make it even better).

    I use student evaluations for what students are good at evaluating – do I hold every scheduled class? Do I start and end classes on time? Do I return written work within 1 week or 2 class periods (I don’t like our current “reasonable amount of time” – too subjective)? But, sorry, “The instructor knows the subject matter” isn’t a question that I put a lot of stock in for evaluation. If I’m drooling and reading off my notes, yes, student evaluations should report that. But do I have a deep understanding of the current state of RNAi research? I don’t think most undergraduates could judge. And the questions we have about ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ seem, in my analysis, to be misunderstood by a pretty large number of students. The questions can be much clearer.

    But I’m not opposed to using online, as long as they’re secure. But, please, let’s not add a ‘hotness’ index. I regret to inform y’all that I am not a hottie… 😉

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