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Online faculty evaluations get mixed reviews

Instead of using paper and class time to complete teacher evaluations, students may be required to fill out the forms online as early as next spring.

“I want to make it clear that the decision has not been made,” Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc said. However, it would be more cost effective and save processing time and paper, he said, noting that “the end result is digitized one way or another.”

Mary Sapp, assistant vice president of planning and institutional research, has been working with course evaluations since 1987 and is chair of the Faculty Senate Course Evaluation Committee.

The committee has a faculty representative from each college and school at UM. Student representative Islamiyat “Nancy” Adebisi, appointed by Student Government President Danny Carvajal, and a graduate student representative, Mary Ann Patum.

“The music and nursing schools have indicated an interest in going completely online this fall, and the committee is working to make that happen,” Sapp said. “Next spring definitely more schools will be online, but the decision about which schools will go online has not been made.”

The online evaluations would ask the same questions, and still include the open-ended responses.

David E. Wiles, executive director of the Testing Center, said in an e-mail that “the formal process of students evaluating their instructors at UM dates back to the late 1970s when an ad hoc ‘Committee on Teaching Evaluation’ was organized to make recommendations.” He also noted that 88,649 evaluations were scanned by the Testing Center in the 2006-2007 academic year.

One of Sapp’s concerns is preserving student anonymity. With the proposed online system, CoursEval, students would use their MyUM username and password to access the evaluation. Sapp said the system would protect students’ identities, even from site administrators, and believes the lack of handwritten responses will promote anonymity.

But Thomas Steinfatt, a professor in the School of Communication who composed a list of advantages and disadvantages for online evaluations, doubts the anonymity of the Internet. He said tracking a student is always a possibility if a person has the desire.

“Authorship is one of the main things that faculty are generally concerned with,” Steinfatt said. “If you have evaluations online, who writes them? In a classroom you know the student and can even check their I.D. to be sure they’re in your class. You would also know if a student is drunk.”

Steinfatt noted evaluations affect whether a professor is promoted, fired or earns tenure. He said that only students who really love or really hate a certain professor will be motivated to complete online evaluations, and thus the data will be skewed.

In order to retain the current student response rate and prevent extreme answers from dominating the results, Sapp said that students may be able to view their grades a week earlier as an incentive for participating. For example, students would be able to access their grades for the fall semester by Dec. 23 instead of Jan. 1.

However, Sapp acknowledged the possibility that student responses may not be as credible if moved online.

“In a classroom environment, even though the faculty members have left, it’s still a classroom environment and everyone is filling it out,” Sapp said. “Whereas if you do it on your own, a RateMyProfessor.com mentality might creep in.”

Sapp said the online system will work if students responsibly complete the questionnaires, but Sam Anzel, a sophomore, thinks the response rate will drop.

“In class you get the sheet so it’s right in front of you,” Anzel said. “I don’t know if people will do it as much if it’s online.”

Nazarena Ocon, a senior, disagrees. “I think more people will fill it out online,” Ocon said. “It gives people more of a chance to do it on their own time. I would be able to do it at night…and could do it really quickly.”

LeBlanc, the provost, said “students will prefer not using class time to fill this out.”

On the other hand, Steinfatt said very little class time is devoted to evaluations-“maybe ten minutes.”

Some students are not concerned with the switch from paper to digital evaluations because they forgo the process altogether.

Jenna Mullins, a junior, does not use evaluation results to choose classes, but goes by word of mouth or just “wings it.”

“A lot of times you go online and you’ll find really, really good ratings or really, really bad,” Mullins said. “It’s overall a mixed opinion. It just doesn’t seem very accurate.”

Kelly Herson may be contacted at k.herson@umiami.edu.

October 25, 2007

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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