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Course evaluations going green this fall

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Just as students expect to be graded on their performance at the end of each semester, professors rely on student course evaluations to grade how they do in the classroom.  But students don’t always take the evaluations seriously.

This semester, Dominican University is switching from traditional paper-and-pencil course evaluations to an online system.  Students will be able to access a course survey either directly on the survey website or through a link on myDU.

In the past, students tended to fill out paper evaluations simply because they were already sitting in class and the forms were placed in front of them. Comment spaces were left blank, and questions often were not genuinely considered.

“Dominican faculty created the questions, and some questions have changed for the online evaluation,” said Daniel Domin, director of Assessment, Evaluation, and Achievement. “The end of this fall will be the full launch of the online system.”

He expects the new online system will make it easier not only for the Educational Testing Service (ETS), who is in charge of administering course evaluations worldwide, but for faculty and students as well.

Easier, maybe, but with other responsibilities outside of class, students are not as likely to take the initiative to fill out a survey that isn’t placed in front of them.  “(Online) surveys can be saved and returned to later. We’re just hoping students will participate,” Domin said.

He plans to e-mail students to remind them to fill out evaluations, and the department of assessment is working with faculty to encourage students to complete the assessments by offering extra credit in the course or sending e-mail reminders.

Though surveys cannot be traced back to students, after completion of a survey, a confirmation page may be printed. Professors are also able to log into a website and check how many have been completed.

“Research has shown that response rates drop. We’re aware of that,” Domin said. “After a while, response rates do go back up again, [but] they’re never as high as the in-class evaluations.”

There are valid reasons to switch, even with a decline in responses.

Dan Martin, who teaches in the computer science department, said: “As an instructor, I appreciate not having to dedicate class time towards the evaluation process itself, and it also gives students more of an opportunity to consider their answers. I think the data collected will be more useful.”

Domin agrees. “If the students feel that their comments and feedback are valued and the instructors are improving student learning, they will be more likely to spend more time on it,” he said.

Students will have a two-week window during which they may complete a course evaluation. When they can do it on their own time, it gives them a chance to really reflect on the course, Domin said.

There are still wrinkles that need to be ironed out in the online system, one of them being compatibility with different browsers. Domin said, as of now, it is working properly on two popular browsers. “If you’re on a PC, it works best with Internet Explorer,” he said. “If you access it on Mac, you would use Firefox.”

The course evaluation link on myDU does not yet work on Safari browser for Mac, Domin added.

Another challenge is with cross-listed courses.  Survey responses are supposed to remain anonymous, but it has been found that for cross-listed courses, the system is identifying the course for which the survey was completed, making it possible for the instructor to narrow down the students in class who are enrolled in that particular course.

The office of assessment is working to fix this in order to ensure that surveys remain anonymous.

More information, including FAQs as well as the course surveys, can be found at www.dom.edu/fdrs/oa/index.html.

Kinga Kasprzyk, Contributing Writer

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