Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue
Why should students complete course evaluations every semester? Are they even looked at? Are the questions even producing worthwhile information? Both students and faculty members appear to have asked themselves these questions from time to time. The low response rates for the course evaluations the last few semesters have led some to believe that students do not care much for the end-of the semester opportunity to give feedback on their instructors and courses. Others think they care, but don’t feel that their voices are heard. Technical glitches haven’t helped matters.
So what are we to do? Over the last year, the Committee on Assessment and Evaluation has been considering different options. Soon, all faculty will be asked to participate in a survey about the course evaluations, which means that now is a good time to start thinking about what we really want to accomplish with the instructor/course evaluation.
In my research on how to revise the Instructor/Course Evaluation instrument, I came across this report from the Hanover Research Council. The report addressed some key questions about course evaluations:
- Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses?
- What standard questions should be asked?
- Should students be required to complete course evaluations?
- Who should see the course evaluation results?
- Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle?
- Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format?
Here are my thoughts on the matter:
Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses? I have heard enough from faculty who teach lab courses to believe that a separate evaluation is needed from the standard form every course currently uses. The committee would like to develop a lab specific evaluation. Beyond that, we need to decide where we draw the line. A mixed survey that has some standard questions and some course specific questions may be doable and valuable in the age of assessment and learner outcomes.
What standard questions should be asked? Overall evaluation, difficulty of course/workload, teaching effectiveness, perception of volume of learning…
Should students be required to complete course evaluations? No. The major limitation would be the seriousness of the reposes if it is required. I would not want my tenure or promotion decisions to depend on how seriously a student took the evaluation if they were quickly filling it out so they could see their grades.
Who should see the course evaluation results? The faculty person being evaluated, the chair, and whomever the faculty person authorizes, such as PTS. Beyond that, generalized results for the University community would be beneficial. Those results could inform actions, such as CETL workshops, and demonstrate to the students that we take those evaluations seriously.
Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle? I don’t see a reason to stop our current practice of evaluating at least every course offered each semester. A question raised in the report is should the courses be evaluated more than once a semester. Facilitation of a mid-semester evaluation would be beneficial. I’ve liked it when I have done that, and some structure might get me to do it more often.
Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format? Online. Especially if we are going to have a mix of standard and custom questions. The major drawback, of course, is participation. But I have had some encouraging conversations about how we can increase our response rate even before we have a conversation about incentives or requirements.
What is your response to one or all of the questions about course evaluations?