Program improves course feedback

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve almost made it to the finish line this semester. I was reminded of the fact after reading my registration date e-mail. It’s time to pick next semester’s classes and to hope, once again, of getting some decent teachers.

This also means student course evaluations will be available. My previous column on this topic discussed how valuable the evaluations are to U teachers, and why it’s important for students to offer constructive criticism. But I neglected something important. How do they help students?

Obviously, if it gets teachers to improve their classes, it’s beneficial for future students. But most of us doubt the possibility of our suggestions being taken seriously, because we never see the results of the survey. Plus, we can’t gauge if any improvement ever occurred without the ability to compare them to past surveys.

This is one of the many student misconceptions that prompted the Academic Senate to assign the Center of Teaching & Learning Excellence to look into student course evaluations more than a year ago.

Jill Stephenson, program manager and analyst of student course evaluations, said it created a working group of undergraduate and graduate students to identify issues and areas where student course evaluations could improve.

Stephenson said the group has already enacted three major changes to the evaluation process, after receiving approval from multiple student groups, the Graduate Council, the Undergraduate Council and the Senate’s Executive Committee. The No. 1 change was to rename the program to Student Course Feedback, to establish more of a partnership between students and teachers.

“The (word) feedback felt more of like a two-way street,” Stephenson said. “Students, and I think the faculty, kind of felt this disconnect. So a big priority was to form a partnership, so there is this constant dialogue going on between students and instructors.”

The second change addresses the fact that most U students don’t even know they have access to the results8212;a compilation of more than 70 percent of students’ responses to the evaluations. The reports from every semester, since they began online in 2003, have been buried deep in the Campus Information Systems website.

“Now, students will see, on the class schedule, a new column called “feedback,’ ” Stephenson said. “This provides a hyperlink to the most recent student course evaluation reports from the past two years. This really ties the course evaluation reports to registration.”

Although this option is great for newer students, it doesn’t help students down to their last three classes taught by one teacher at one time.

phenson said it still offered the benefit of knowing what to expect from that one course and instructor.

Ultimately, these improvements led to the third change, which was to make the quantitative data easier for students to interpret once they figured out they had access to it. A well-tested graph was added so students can quickly gain information to help with decisions about classes before registering for them.

Although there are a few websites offering statistical information on some professors, the overall rating structure is ambiguous because there are very few raters. Unless you’re truly interested in knowing the hotness of teachers or their “easiness” factor, these sites are pretty much a waste of time. Still, they do offer one very helpful thing: student comments.

Stephenson said students are not allowed access to the comment section of the survey, but it’s something being considered for the second phase of changes. Because some teachers have said they would like their students to have access to the qualitative information too, Stephenson said the option could be added in the near future, but only with the ability to edit inappropriate language.

For now, teachers have the option to hyperlink the title of a class in the class schedule to their syllabus or even a web page, where they could provide more information about themselves or the class. The working group would like to see more teachers taking advantage of this option and would also like to provide the same ability when clicking on instructor’s names.

I have to say, it’s great to hear that the U not only identified something lacking in a student process, but it also created and implemented some exciting new improvements.

With the Student Course Feedback program beginning Wednesday for most classes, there’s an even better reason for us to use it. U students now have a viable option to consider when registering, instead of just hoping for a good class taught by a good teacher.

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