by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty, Chicago Campus
Course Evaluations are due by Friday of this week. You’ve gotten the e-mails. (Read thisif you need more info on how to do the evaluations.) You may have some questions about evaluations, though. Here are some answers:
“Why are evaluations now online? They used to be done in class…”
There are a few reasons. A few are stated in the e-mails you received:
“In an effort to further move towards sustainable practices, all Robert Morris University students will now be able to complete the quarterly Course/Faculty Evaluations in an online format instead of with paper and pencil. After successfully piloting the online evaluations at our Orland Park campus, we are pleased to make this available to all students. You can now complete the evaluations with a few clicks on a computer. It’s quick and easy!”
In addition to that, there are other benefits:
- Evaluations won’t take time out of class.
- Evaluation feedback will be returned to your instructors FASTER so that they can use what feedback you’ve given them for the next quarter. Faculty used to not receive the student feedback until the second half of the FOLLOWING quarter, which was too late for the feedback to make an immediate impact on how we do things in class.
“Are my responses REALLY confidential?”
Yes, yes, and yes! The teachers will not see students’ names attached to any of the feedback that was submitted for the course. If you’ve received multiple e-mails saying you’ve yet to complete your evaluations, that is because the program that generates the evaluations assigns each student a code of sorts–all internal to the software that generates the e-mails and receives the responses–that’s how the university knows if a student has completed the evaluations or not. Thus, your responses on the evaluations are completely CONFIDENTIAL!
As a side note, students have expressed to me that they feel the paper evaluations were more confidential. As an instructor, I feel just the opposite. With every batch of written evaluations, I was able to match at least a handful of evaluations with the student who did it, and I did this with no effort. The combination of what the comments said and the handwriting made identifying a student very easy in some cases. The online evaluations are much more confidential.
“Will my evaluations hurt my grade in the class?”
No. Grades are submitted before your feedback is returned to your teachers, and even if it wasn’t, your responses are confidential. And, speaking for myself, grading is objective. I wouldn’t raise or lower someone’s grade because of the feedback. The grade is based on the work each student has done.
“What’s the purpose of evaluations?”
There are a number of purposes:
- It is your opportunity as the student to evaluate the course and the performance of your teacher.
- The feedback you provide helps your instructors improve their teaching in both that course and in general. The feedback also helps the university improve that course.
- The scores you give a teacher/course are a part of each teacher’s annual review (more about that below).
“Okay, but I’m done with the course, so what does it matter what I think?”
While it’s true that you personally won’t be taking that same class with that same instructor again the following quarter, there is great value in it for you to complete the evaluations. The feedback your are giving your teachers now will help them make the course better for a new group of students next quarter. At the same time, a different group of students is providing feedback NOW on a course you will be taking next quarter. Thus, the courses you are about to enter into will be BETTER than they would have been thanks to the feedback. This means that you may not reap the benefits of evaluations on that particular course, but the entire process of evaluating instructors/classes is EXTREMELY beneficial to you.
“Do teachers even use the feedback?”
Yes, absolutely! BUT, the students have to give us, the teachers, usable feedback! If a student writes, “This class was AWESOME! I LOVED the teacher!” that may make the teacher feel good, but that doesn’t tell us why it was awesome or what we did to make it awesome. Likewise, if a student writes, “This class SUCKED! I HATED the teacher,” the teacher isn’t going to have much of a response to that. Okay, you hated the teacher and the class, but why? Is there something about the course or the teacher’s methods and teaching style that needs to be improved? Or is that particular student just angry because of a poor grade or something? It’s impossible to tell.
Thus, speaking for myself, I always look for usable comments, whether they are positive or negative. If I get a positive comment like, “I really liked how the teacher used different methods to teach us things, like movies, games, activities, discussions, and more,” then I as the teacher know that I should continue to do those same things, as they were effective and worked for my students. If I get negative feedback like, “I didn’t like how much the teacher lectured and I hated that we bought that book and hardly ever used it,” then I know that I need to vary up how often I lecture, cut my lectures shorter when I can, and I need to use the book more often and more effectively – or get rid of the book entirely.
“Can I get a teacher fired with my evaluation?”
When I was a student, I always wondered if the course evaluations I filled out had any impact on my teachers’ jobs. Did I have the power to get my teacher fired with a bad evaluation? If I gave a good evaluation, was I getting that teacher promoted?
At RMU, average scores are calculated for each course that an instructor teachers. Therefore, when judging the success/failure of a course, the average scores of all the students are more important than any single positive or negative review from one student.
For the full-time professors, the student evaluation scores for each course are a portion (NOT the entirety) of each instructor’s annual review. Again, no single evaluation from any single student is likely to have much impact. The evaluations are generally looked at from a big picture perspective: are the average scores for an instructor generally high, low, fluctuating? Are there any courses that stick out from the rest for a good/bad reason?
So, in short, a single student evaluation will not get anyone fired or promoted. It’s the big picture trends that matter.