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Digital upgrades impact effectiveness of course evaluations

According to Dr. Jessica Harvey, professor of communication, online course evaluations has negatively affected course evaluation results.

However, mixed opinions about how course evaluation should be delivered exist among students and faculty.

“I think it’s because if you’re sitting in a class and you administer the paper form, everyone takes it right there,” Harvey said.

Harvey added that all course instructors can do is simply remind and encourage students constantly to do the course evaluations.

Even if students intend to do the course evaluations after class, Harvey said, they are likely to forget, due to the lack of a computer at that moment, and when they arrive at a dorm, something else might occur.

This is further complicated by evaluations needing completion at the end of each semester, Harvey continued.

However, Dr. John Smetanka, vice president of academic affairs, has a different opinion concerning the evaluation student response rate.

“I think the overall response rate has been higher on the computer because when it was done by paper, more faculty opted out,” Smetanka said, due to professors not wanting to give up class time, primarily the tenured faculty.

According to Smetanka, only one faculty member out of about 45 has opted out since the evaluations moved online, helping to indicate that the number of people participating has dramatically increased every year.

Smetanka also established that, thanks to the digital format, the faculty now get the results only a few days after grades are due.

“In the past,” Smetanka said, “it would take weeks because all of the open-ended questions would have to be either scanned or typed in.”

Smetanka stated that faculty members have two methods of receiving their evaluation results, one being a digital copy in PDF format by email.

The other option is through an interface they can log into, letting them

also compare their responses to their department, school and the entire college, as well as their results from year to year.

When asked why the evaluations always occur at the end of each semester, Smetanka responded that the evaluation is summative.

“Many instructors will do their own surveys during the course and I think that’s a great thing to do, [to] see how it’s going at the beginning,” Smetanka said.

But, the semester-ending course evaluations, Smetanka continued, are meant to be a college-wide instrument.

“We started it pretty early this year as a trial to see if we could get a better response if we gave students more time,” Smetanka said.

Although some faculty prefer the evaluations to be saved for the very end when the courses have finished entirely, Smetanka added.

According to Smetanka, faculty members are evaluated every year; in the case of tenured faculty, evaluations occur every three years. In both cases, Smetanka said, the evaluations are vital to faculty performance.

“Every faculty member […] is expected to show [in their application for promotion and tenure] that they use the evaluations in a way that improves their teaching,” Smetanka said. “But in that evaluation, they have to show that they are using the course evaluation for improvement.”

Harvey emphasized the evaluations’ importance, mentioning how they have aided her teaching performance.

“I have gotten feedback that has helped me keep an assignment or group activity that I could have gotten rid of, [thinking] people [didn’t] really enjoy it,” Harvey said.

Harvey said that in the past, she has asked her class about a subject and while they informed her they enjoyed the activity, she still had her doubts.

“I wondered how many would say to my face that they didn’t [like it],” Harvey said. “But they responded that they liked it on course evaluations.”

Harvey believes that it is good insight for faculty to get a better understanding of what works in class and what does not.

Jamie Sherry, sophomore marketing major, agrees that course evaluations play an important role.

“[They] are effective, especially for professors who have not yet received tenure,” Sherry said.

She continued that it helps them refine their teaching methods until their review, where the board will look over student evaluations to ascertain how effective the professor was.

Sherry also added that course evaluations help tenured professors update their lessons, or to make small changes that might help others, such as including a schedule, having more office hours, including more interactive activities in their lectures, or writing bigger on the board.

“I’ve heard several professors mention past evaluations, and how they’ve worked to improve since then,” Sherry said. “Professors at SVC definitely take student evaluations seriously.”

Photos: John Wojtechko, SVC Flickr

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