Student Evaluations of Teaching shift to online
Online format proves more convenient, but results in lower response rates
After switching teacher evaluations from a paper to online format this past semester, the University experienced lower response rates from students, dropping from between 80 and 90 percent to approximately 60 percent of the student body.
According to University registrar Doug McKenna, the University decided to move to an online format in order to update the Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) process and eliminate some of its problems.
“The previous Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) process was paper-based, labor intensive, time-consuming, challenging to administer and difficult to generate reports on the outcomes,” McKenna said in an email. “The process had remained largely unchanged for many years, including the questions that were posed as part of the survey.”
McKenna said the Faculty Senate created a subcommittee to reevaluate the system in its entirety. This resulted in them instituting a pilot in the fall of 2015, and later converting the evaluations to an online format for the first time since the use of paper Scantrons began in the mid-1990s.
Feedback from students who participated in the fall pilot was mainly positive regarding the online system and the experience using it according to McKenna.
Students who participated in the pilot program also completed a survey about their experience. According to McKenna, survey responses, such as “online teacher evaluations are much more efficient than the paper system,” and “it’s so much better than doing them in class,” reflected this positive sentiment.
Despite these positive responses and a more convenient format, the registrar witnessed an overall low response rate.
While professors were encouraged to allocate class time to complete the evaluations, McKenna said it was not required like the paper format was. He also said these lower numbers may be due to technical issues on critical days and a lack of student understanding of the importance of their responses.
“Students may not fully understand how important their responses are for the faculty member’s review, merit increases, promotions and retention and so may not take the survey as seriously as the institution expects,” McKenna said. “Other concerns are that because the survey is available online, students may not engage with it as fully as they might have on paper, particularly with the narrative responses.”
Looking ahead, McKenna said more revisions to the SETs are in the works, including changes to the questions asked within the evaluations, and possibly making their completion a mandatory requirement.
“The sense of the Faculty Senate was that we (the University) did not want to make responding to the survey required in order to receive a grade in the class,” McKenna said. “Based on the response rates for spring 2016, the Faculty Senate may revisit making the surveys a required component in order for students to access their final grades.”