Online survey pilot under way
Last spring, the College switched from paper to electronic course evaluations as part of a one-year pilot program. As the trial period continues, the Faculty Course Evaluation Committee is charged with assessing the success of the online form.
George Welch, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, was elected chair of the Committee this past Thursday, September 10. The Committee consists of four voting faculty members including Welch, one non-voting faculty statistician and three non-voting administrators.
The non-voting administrators participate as advisors to the Committee, bringing their knowledge of administrative inner-workings to the table. The three members are Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of Faculty Michael Donihue, Director of Institutional Research William Wilson and Director of Information Technology Services Raymond Phillips.
The faculty and administrative members of the Committee work together to continually reassess the form and devise possible changes and improvements. "The Committee is charged with evaluating the form in all kinds of different ways, and so we are always looking at the form"¦we're always looking to think 'is the form serving its purpose?' and 'does it need changes or even replacement?'" Welch said.
The electronic pilot is the Committee's focus right now. "What we came up with for this one year trial is 'we are trying to go online,'" Welch said. "The questions are the same. The wording is the same"¦everything is supposed to be the same, except now it's online."
While the Committee might have considered other changes to the form beforehand, it is currently "just trying to mimic what happened on the paper so that it is not a totally different experience," Welch said. "The faculty really felt like we didn't want to change too many things at once," Donihue said.
While the Committee is responsible for devising and implementing changes to the evaluation process, it cannot proceed with any measure without a favorable vote from the rest of the faculty. The electronic pilot program was originally voted in with 55 yeas to 13 nays at a faculty meeting.
While the full extent of the results of last spring's online evaluations has yet to be tabulated-the Committee, which assesses the data, does not meet over the summer-the Committee is proud of an 87 percent response rate. "The seniors, who are sort of on their way out the door, had a fairly lower response rate than the rest of the group," Donihue said.
However, the Committee is looking into ways to increase incentives for senior participation now that the evaluations are not completed during class time. The hope is that if the electronic evaluations are voted in permanently, "it will become part of the culture and probably seniors will just naturally participate,""ˆDonihue said. This sort of induction into College culture, however, would have to develop over the course of a few years.
While satisfaction with the electronic format is not unanimous, the Committee is pleased with last semester's evaluations faculty responded positively to the change. With the paper forms, processing the evaluations took nearly two months. However, professors receive feedback at a much faster rate through the use of the online forms. "The faculty really liked the fact that they could get their evaluations sooner because if they're going to make adjustments for the course over the summer, they need that information," Donihue said.
The Committee hoped that the switch to electronic evaluations would not only produce faster response times, but also prompt students to write longer comments. "We expected a lot more narrative because it was electronic and people could type," Donihue said.
"The online form is better because it is much easier for students to write comments and to write more when they do write them. Hearing what students have to say is obviously the important part of the process," visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Keith Peterson wrote in an email.
The written comments on the evaluations are not only important for professors' self-improvement, but can also help determine faculty promotions and tenure. "The department chair reads every one of their evaluations every semester about everybody in their department and will mentor faculty based on what they're reading," Donihue said. The agree/disagree bubbles doesn't tell them enough.
"I think there a number of students that don't necessarily take [evaluations] all that seriously," Welch said. The evaluations are given much more weight than many students realize. "You have to be very good to get tenured at Colby, and very good is measured by course evaluations," Donihue said.
"We would like students to understand that the College does take seriously what happens on these forms," Welch said. "We want students to take their time, and think about what they're saying."
As the Committee is always looking for ways to improve the form, they invite student-feedback concerning any aspect of the evaluations. If students have any serious thoughts or suggestions, they are welcome to direct an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. "Student opinion about the process matters," Donihue said.