student life

Online class evaluations raise concern

The Bloomington Faculty Council approved a policy in April requiring a transition to an online course questionnaire. The most prominent differences between the former course evaluations and the proposed questionnaires are the online format and student return questions, from which responses would be made public for students to use in future course selection.

The online system is not yet ready, however, and some faculty members are dissatisfied with the policy.

Since its inception, some professors have wondered whether an online questionnaire would decrease the response rate.

Assistant Vice Provost for Curricular Development and Assessment Judith Ouimet said she has been involved in pilot studies that show this is not the case.

“The other research I’ve seen is initially the response rates drop, but as students, in fact, did get accustomed to having these surveys, the response rates go back up, and the quality of the responses exceed what they were in the paper,” she said.

One online petition against the online course evaluations has been circulating for two weeks and states, “The (student teaching evaluations) project should be carefully reviewed from the perspective of the educational mission of the College.”

The petition lists several reasons why the online questionnaire could hurt the quality of education.

Notably, those opposed to the new format believe more visible results can cause instructors to avoid “high risk” teaching habits or courses, limiting academic freedom.

The petition had more than 175 signatures as of Nov. 15, many of which have included additional feedback.

Some said the online format could cause a distortion in grades.

“This is just a step further in discouraging faculty from challenging students, requiring hard work and high standards and encouraging grade inflation,” anthropology professor Richard Wilk said. “These are all more serious problems than poor teaching by faculty.”

Jim Sherman, professor of psychological and brain sciences, mentioned a study that reinforces Wilk’s statement.

“The higher the grade point average, the better the evaluations,” he said at the Sept. 18 BFC meeting. “And this creates a lot of problems for people who tend to be a hard ass, as I am, and won’t give in.”

Others are concerned published results could hurt graduate students in the job market.

“Graduate students are generally asked to teach our lowest-level courses,” said Linda McKinley, senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics. “The majority of the students in those courses are freshmen who, based on their high school experiences, have very unrealistic expectations for the performance of university instructors.”

Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Thomas Gieryn said when IU reviews promotion and tenure dossiers, more than teaching evaluations are considered.

“Online questionnaires constitute a fairly small proportion of the overall documentation of teaching effectiveness,” he said.

Though some portions of the online questionnaire will potentially be rolled out by next semester, the software is not expected to be fully implemented until spring 2015. Opposing faculty members are encouraging College of Arts and Sciences faculty and the College Policy Committee to use this time to reconsider.

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