opinion

OPINION: The Online Course Questionnaire needs to be reformed, not eliminated



ocq

The Bloomington Faculty Council convenes March 3 in Franklin Hall. Elle Kreamer

This past month, the Bloomington Faculty Council discussed canceling the Online Course Questionnaire for the fall 2020 semester. Not administering the OCQ would eliminate critically needed student feedback in a time of transition, change and increased student needs. Improving the OCQ to better reflect the needs of students would be more productive than not having it at all. 

The OCQ is a survey released at the end of the semester used to gather student feedback to improve teaching. It is also used, in part, to review faculty performance as it relates to promotions and tenure. The OCQ serves as a critical avenue for student voices to be included in evaluating the efficacy of professors in their courses. 

The OCQ has been a much-disputed subject since it was approved by the BFC in April 2014. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we approach education, leading schools nationwide to re-evaluate the purpose and utility of course evaluations. 

“The argument for not administering is, first of all, pre-tenure faculty and lecturers are going to get nervous about this, particularly given that the university is under a certain degree of financial stress,” John Walbridge, president of the faculty council, said in their Sept. 15 meeting.

During the meeting, various members spoke up about the importance of the OCQ in compiling student input to evaluate teaching and improve courses. The general sentiment was having some student input would be better than none. One member proposed administering the OCQ without factoring it in for promotions. Given the unique circumstances of this semester, the OCQ could still be a valuable tool to offer feedback, they said.

While the OCQ needs reform, it should not be eliminated altogether.

The OCQ has 11 questions along with additional questions added by individual academic units. But is the current OCQ conducive to properly evaluating the behavior of faculty? 

In light of ongoing sexist and racist comments made by faculty members, there is a heightened sense of scrutiny on professors and their effect on the student experience. 

Students have already called for OCQ reform. Last semester, the IU Student Government Congress passed a bill proposing changes to the OCQ. The bill called for a way to track discriminatory behavior among faculty. It also advocated for adding questions to the OCQ directed at addressing classroom environment and potential faculty bias.

While these preliminary suggestions were not implemented, more still needs to be done. The OCQ could give weight to student concerns about faculty creating inclusive classrooms. Along with giving a voice to students, the OCQ could be used more broadly to further understand faculty needs.

“Shouldn’t we want to know how we’re doing?” said Lemuel Watson, associate vice president for diversity and multicultural affairs. “We need to continue to learn how to support faculty with allocating resources to assist them in the enhancement of incorporating multiple perspectives for the classroom.” 

Watson is a proponent of reforming the OCQ to include questions about the student experience in the classroom in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion. Questions such as, “Were there diverse authors used throughout the syllabus?” or “Was the environment created by the professor inclusive and welcoming of all backgrounds?” could make the OCQ more holistic.

While this semester’s OCQ doesn’t have to factor into tenure considerations, it is a more than opportune time to reevaluate the questions on the OCQ and include questions that gauge student wellbeing in the classroom. 

Critiques of the way we have done things and how we should change is a pivotal step toward a more inclusive and equitable experience in the classroom. The OCQ is one of the only ways students have a direct voice when it comes to evaluating the value of their education. 

“Students are the ones being served by this and just knowing that it preserves the voice of the students is important,” said Jozie Barton, a member of the Graduate and Professional Student Government. ”We don’t get to opt-out of paying for our classes, so we should be able to have a voice in what that looks like in the future.” 

If students are expected to do well in their classes this semester, then professors should be held to the same standards. 

Ultimately, the OCQ as an evaluation tool is vital to understand student needs and hold the IU administration accountable for allocating resources to faculty. At the next BFC meeting, members should discuss how reforming the OCQ might be better in the long run for improving its efficacy, instead of simply eliminating it.

Students can also submit their concerns to the BFC website.

Rebekah Amaya (she/her) is a junior studying law and public policy and critical race and ethnic study. She wants to go into immigration reform advocacy.

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