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New professor evaluations will begin this spring

An online system will be used instead of scantrons

The University is adopting a new online professor-evaluation format, transitioning from a paper-based delivery mode to a more efficient, effective system of electronic submissions.

The new forms, which are now called Student Input on Teaching (SIT) instead of the previous Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET), will allow for easier comparisons between evaluations from different departments, according to University Registrar Doug McKenna.

The changes come after months of thought on the subject by the Faculty Senate and its subcommittee focused on studying the effectiveness of the SET system, according to CAS Psychology Professor Anthony Ahrens, who served as co-chair of the subcommittee for the 2014-2015 academic year along with CAS Biology Professor Christopher Tudge.

During the fall 2014 semester, a draft report was completed and opened to all faculty for feedback. Their input was taken during a faculty retreat that semester, and student input was taken through surveys before submission of the final committee report to the Faculty Senate in May 2015, according to Ahrens.

Since the evaluations are used when determining merit pay, tenure and promotion, there are professors who worry about low ratings from teaching some courses, especially General Education classes, where a student may only be taking it as a requirement rather than on their own terms, Ahrens said. The new system will make it possible to look at data across all of AU’s schools and colleges and help get access to more comprehensive evaluations of teaching.

“There are courses faculty do not want to teach because it will wind up affecting ratings,” Ahrens said. “Small graduate level specialized classes get better ratings than a large lecture class that students are taking only to fulfill a requirement.”

Ahrens believes the new version will be hugely beneficial for the AU community. In the past, he said comparing data, especially for General Education classes that span multiple schools and departments, was difficult.

“We don’t have an easy way of comparing evaluations for all Area Five Gen-Ed courses to each other. Evaluations for psychology classes are compared to other psychology classes,” Ahrens said. “In trying to digest what the feedback means, one of the things useful to figure out is what courses to compare to each other in facilitating easy comparison.”

The new system is also more economically efficient, as it will save time and energy spent on collecting scantron forms, delivering envelopes and scanning the forms once completed, resulting in significant cost savings for the University, according to McKenna.

“The paper SET process was administratively burdensome, time consuming, and wasteful. It also wasn't exceptionally engaging for students. Moving to an electronic delivery mode addresses many of those issues,” McKenna said.

The University ran a pilot in the fall to test out the new electronic forms with a small portion of students before implementing the system for the whole institution this spring, according to Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs Mary Clark. It included around 50 class sections across all of AU’s schools and colleges, with the exception of the law school, and both undergraduate and graduate students were represented, according to McKenna. All students and faculty who participated in the pilot were surveyed by the OUR and the program was a success overall with minor adjustments that needed to be made, McKenna said.

“The OUR initially identified the kinds of classes we wanted to include in the pilot, then worked with the associate deans in each school to identify faculty who would be willing to participate, McKenna said in an email. “Following the pilot, the implementation team made up of representatives from the OUR, the Faculty Senate, and OIT [Office of Information Technology], met to review various aspects of the pilot and reported on the pilot's success to the larger Faculty Senate at that body's January meeting.”

The next phase of the evaluation change is to implement changes within the questions asked as well, guided by the faculty subcommittee report and recommendations. McKenna expects the piloting of new questions to be underway by fall 2016.

Both McKenna and Ahrens recommend faculty still allow for time in class to complete these online evaluations just as the previous paper evaluations were administered to ensure that they get the highest rate of responses possible.

While he is hopeful about the new system and believes that the University is moving in the right direction, Ahrens feels there will always be space for improvement with teaching evaluations.

“The concern is that some of what’s important about teaching is hard to quantify,” Ahrens said. “We can always improve evaluations but just can’t get perfect evaluations.”

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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