University launches online student evaluations

By Sam Allen

This fall, the familiar yellow comment sheet and Scantron bubble page of teacher evaluation forms could be obsolete.

UAF is implementing an electronic evaluation pilot program this spring that will affect 20 percent of traditional courses, according to Andrea Ferrante, chair of the electronic course assessment implementation committee.

A 2013 document that was prepared by various administrators documented why and how UAF should move evaluations online.

A 2013 document that was prepared by various administrators documented why and how UAF should move evaluations online.

On Monday April 20, 2015 students from select courses received a course evaluation survey via e-mail. The deadline for participating is May 4. Identities of the students are still confidential. Teachers will receive feedback from evaluations before May is out.

Typically, feedback from paper evaluations can take half a year or longer. The move would save $73,000 in associated staffing and supply costs. However, the net cost would be roughly the same because of the university’s contract with the hosting company according to Dr. Alexandra Fittz, vice provost and accreditation liaison officer There is a downside.

“Once an institution goes to electronic format, the response rate is going to drop,” Ferrante said. Response rates for the paper forms are 65-70 percent. At similar universities, when they switched to online form, participation dropped to 20 percent. The implementation committee hopes for 25 percent. Ideas to spur student interest are varied.

One idea to increase participation in the surveys is to “match it with monetary value,” he said. For example, for every completed survey 10 cents would be added to a travel fund, or donated to a charity
fund. The students would decide the charity and how the travel fund money is spent.

Another idea is to release grades earlier to students who complete the survey. The survey will consist of one section of nine questions, four instructor-specific, five related to the professor. Each will have a comment field. The pilot program was distributed among lecture, lab-based and videoconferencing classes to get a wide representation of classes, according to Ferrante. Classes taught by tenure-track teachers were not include in the pilot program because the online responses “could change consistency” of evaluations, Ferrante said.

While student participation is a concern, “If the instructor is into the tool [electronic evaluation] and can see the benefit, you won’t need any trick or system,” Ferrante said.

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