Evaluations go to cyberspace

Karen Herland

Sealing that envelope of scribbled comments and delivering it to the security desk may become a thing of the past.

“Usually those evaluations are done in the last 10 minutes of class when students really just want to leave,” said Danielle Morin, Vice Provost, Academic Programs.

More and more schools are turning to online evaluations by students of professors’ teaching. It cuts down on paper use and allows students to evaluate their courses at their own convenience.

Concordia is moving toward online course evaluation as decided by the President and Provost. With the support of JMSB Dean Jerry Tomberlin, Morin will run a pilot project with that faculty’s graduate students this term.

Morin wanted to identify “a self-sufficient group of students who don’t take courses all over the university.” This would ensure that the group selected were not also taking classes in departments not part of the pilot project.

JMSB graduate students fit the bill perfectly, so that group will be the first at Concordia to try the new system.

“I’ve read the literature — at the end of the day, I think you get a higher grade of results,” Tomberlin said of the JMSB’s participation.

Students will be sent emails during week 11 of the term indicating which courses they are eligible to evaluate. The actual evaluation will be done through their portal and will be available to them for two weeks. The online form is the same as the paper version, except students will be able to leave up to 1,500 characters of comments. “Students have a chance to reflect,” Tomberlin said.

Measures are built into the system both to stop students from completing more than one evaluation for any single course and to separate a student’s ID number and information from the evaluation once it is completed.

“We’re really not changing anything but the delivery,” Morin said.

However, when the pilot project was presented at the JMSB faculty council on Sept. 22, what Morin had anticipated would be a 10-minute agenda item turned into a two-hour discussion. “Course evaluation is such a sensitive subject,” Morin said.

Professors were concerned about whether students would bother to fill out evaluations on their own time, and whether they would do so responsibly.

“The biggest concern, and one that I share, is the response rate,” Dean Tomberlin said.

Morin said that the literature indicates an initial drop in responses, which evens out in the long term, “and the type of response is consistent. It is not just students at the positive and negative extremes who participate.”

Using JMSB graduate students for the pilot will help identify potential problems which can be addressed as the sample group widens to include other faculties and undergraduate students.