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UI Faculty Council discusses evaluation changes

BY GRETA MEYLE | SEPTEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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While seemingly every University of Iowa student is familiar with a mandatory one-paged course-evaluation survey handed out at the end of each course, UI officials are discussing revamping the process and taking it online.

On Tuesday afternoon, the UI Faculty Council met to discuss a new system that would put faculty and teaching-assistant evaluations online and would create a committee to oversee the system’s execution.

“It is very important for this committee to be formed,” said council President Erika Lawrence, an associate professor of psychology. “It will administer the implementation of the [online evaluation] system, how this new information is becoming available to the public, as well as whether or not evaluations will be optional for students.”

Nominations for the committee will be discussed in around two weeks.

Student anonymity on evaluations, potential lag in a response rate, and the degree to which departments would vary in their execution of the new system were among the concerns expressed.
But one professor said further action should be mulled regarding policies.

“I think one thing this committee might need to think about from this point forward is whether there are, or should be, some rules about the extent to which individual colleges and departments can use these kinds of things,” law Professor Christina Bohannan said.  

Shelly Campo, an associate professor of community and behavioral health, and Joyce Moore, the director of the UI Evaluation & Examination Service, presented the proposal to the council.

Moore said they are looking for a system that will allow colleges to develop their own evaluation questions as well as leave it up to them to decide upon their transition plans into the new system. She also said the implementation of the new system is also intended to aid in the progression away from allowing instructors to develop their own evaluations.

But many members of the council were concerned about how professors and departments might be able to trace evaluations to students.

Moore insisted that the system would ensure student privacy because the evaluations would not include questions that would require students to give out identifying information.

Still, some council members expressed concerns about what switching to an online system would do to response rates.

Lawrence said instructor evaluations at the UI currently garner a 70 percent response rate from students, but statistics from other universities have shown only a 20 percent response rate in for online evaluation systems.

Biomedical engineering Professor Nicole Grosland noted the response rate and its effect. 

“I think the biggest [concern] is the response rate — [will] it reflect the student body as a whole?” she said.  

Moore said officials are still planning when the new system will be officially implemented.

“We’re captive to the calendar because course evaluations only take place every semester,” she said. “Most likely this will be ready in the spring.”

In spite of the array of attitudes in response to the new proposal, Lawrence expressed positivity in response to creating the committee as well as facilitating the new system.

“I think it is a really complex issue,” she said. “But there are many advantages. The new system would be more green for campus, accessible and convenient for students, and would possibly make the results more transparent [meaning that they could be provided to future students].”


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