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Compared to sorting through piles of papers feet high, the new online course evaluation system has made life much easier for the members of the University of Miami Testing Center.

With every school at UM now participating to some capacity, the testing center is looking forward to the latest series of student responses using the online system established only three years ago.

“Before the change, we were just using the scannable forms of paper-based evaluation, the latest of which was used for some 20 odd years,” said Dr. David Wiles, the executive director of the Testing Center.

After instituting a pilot program three years ago, different schools elected to begin using the new online version at various times. Among the first to begin using the system were the School of Nursing and Frost School of Music.

“There really were stacks of paper all over the place,” said Dr. Mary Sapp, assistant vice president of Planning and Institutional Research. “Now the effort is mostly dealing with making sure everything is set up in advance online.”

Several immediate benefits to making the move online have already proved helpful to the Testing Center. There has been increased customization of the surveys, allowing for more representative information that schools can use to better their programs. In addition, it allows students the latitude of deciding when to complete the survey.

“We have found that students are volunteering more information and more complete information about the course than they were before,” Wiles said.

Initially, the new online system did see a decrease in response rates, typically about a 15 percent drop. However, in order to help encourage participation last spring, students who filled out course evaluations were able to see their grades earlier. Since then, response rates have climbed back up to similar levels of what schools saw before the move online.

Besides making it easier for both students and faculty, the switch to the online version has helped save the school an exorbitant amount of money and paper. The school typically sorted through over 40,000 surveys in paper form, not including the open-ended comments or any other documents.

These evaluations are taken exceptionally seriously by faculty and are often used as a basis for both promotion and tenure for faculty.

“We just want students to recognize that it’s important enough to the University that the feedback is used in evaluating faculty members,” Sapp said.

With increased awareness, the Testing Center hopes that more students will participate in completing their course evaluations and will act as though it is a meaningful exercise.

“Students should be aware of this prior to completing the survey so they take it more seriously,” sophomore Eric Casella said.

Senior Ignacio Jiménez thinks the use of these evaluations shows the University’s attitude toward students.

“If these surveys are really used to evaluate faculty, then the school thinks very highly of our opinion,” he said.

Evaluations begin next Monday, after Thanksgiving and end shortly before Christmas.

Bryan Sheriff may be contacted at bsheriff@themiamihurricane.com.