Student evaluations will be electronic starting this fall

Regina Garcia Cano

Right before students are graded for the semester, they have the chance to “grade” their professors in the form of Student Surveys of Instruction. Nonetheless, for some of them, writing comments where space is provided is not worth their time.

“I just fill out the bubbles,” Spanish major William McSuley said. “The professors aren’t going to listen. They’re set in their way of teaching.”

Students wonder who learns from what they write.

Where does your evaluation go after you fill it in?

1) An undergraduate or graduate student takes the surveys from the section to the department’s office. The envelope is sealed.

2) A member of the department takes all the evaluations to the library where they are scanned. A summary sheet of the answers is printed. Each sheet is accompanied by a comparison chart.

3) Depending on the department, a member may type the answers that students wrote in the space provided. If the evaluations belong to a large class, the answers are typically not typed.

4) Each faculty member receives a copy of the summary sheet and either a sheet with typed responses or a copy of the actual evaluations.

5) Faculty members are expected to review their surveys.

6) If the numbers the professor received are too low, some department chairs may talk to the faculty member to address the issue.

7) The provost will see the professor’s evaluations during the processes of reappointment, promotion, or grant of tenure.

Source: Stephane Booth, Associate Provost.

“The whole idea is edification for the teacher who started from scratch and wrote the syllabus and designed the course and put his own brand into that particular section,” faculty senate chairman Tom Janson said. “If something is not working, then students are helpful by pointing that out.

“Maybe there is something that is obvious to the teacher that isn’t getting across to the student.”

Provost Robert Frank said he believes students’ opinions on professors are valuable because they are the ones who are actually in the classroom. But he thinks the surveys that are currently in place should change.

“.We have to get a better system of reviews, and the current evaluation system is fairly weak,” Frank said. “I don’t know that it tells us enough of about how to change. We have to work on these evaluations and have them be more helpful than they are right now.

“You can look at the evaluation and say ‘Well, the student didn’t like the class.’ It’s not always clear what the instructor can do to make the class better for the student – how the student would have had a better learning experience. It’s not always good that students know how to have had a better learning experience.”

Frank said reforming the evaluations is on his office’s to-do list, but it’s not at the top.

Students’ not-so-proper comments – the ones that don’t tell a professor how the class can productively change – can go beyond insults.

“We have an invite to students to make comments that may not be accurate or productive to the faculty member,” Frank said. “On occasions, the comments are fragrantly hostile because they are anonymous.”

Janson, who is also a professor in music, said over the years he has noticed students enrolled in Liberal Education Requirements are tougher in their professors’ critiques. On the other hand, they are easier with their major’s professors.

“It may be because students are forced to take LERs, whereas they’ve chosen their major,” Janson said. “The interest in learning lays in the major, not so much in the LER.”

The surveys won’t change for Fall 2009; however, the delivery system will. Effective next semester, they will only be available online.

“We want them (students) to participate,” Janson said. “We want to make them (evaluations) available to them, and if it’s electronic, it’s available for all the class. If it’s paper, it’s available for those students who showed up at that moment.

“Online, they will be open for that final week of the semester, and students will be encourage to go do it whenever.”

Janson said the electronic version will also benefit distance learning students because currently they have to send their survey through regular mail.

But the no-paper policy is not convincing every student.

“I think it’s better in class,” Spanish major Laura Valco said. “I don’t think people are going to fill them out online.”

Deborah Huntsman, executive director of the division of continuing studies, said the software that will be used to deliver the evaluations hasn’t been chosen. However, she said the condition of anonymity will be secured.

Contact academics reporter Regina Garcia Cano at [email protected].