By BETH REHBEHN
The University of Mary Washington is in the process of transitioning student course evaluations from in-class to online. UMW began the process in fall 2010 and held their first pilot test last spring.
Following the success of the first pilot, the University will be conducting a second pilot this semester.
Assistance Provost for Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness Taiwo Ande explained that the university is hoping to increase the number of participating courses each semester as the online program gains more recognition.
The University is aiming to increase the number or participating courses from 27 to more than 100 from spring 2011 to this semester, according to Ande.
Ande hopes that every semester more professors will make the switch, until all student course evaluations are completed online.
Several factors prompted the shift to an online evaluation tool, including concern over the cost of assessing the evaluations, the rate in which the professors were receiving feedback and the desire for a more environmentally friendly method for conducting the survey.
The report, “Online Course Evaluation Pilot Study,” released by the Office of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness states, “In spring 2011, faculty members were invited to participate in the online course evaluation pilot to determine the appropriateness of the use of online course evaluation management system at UMW.”
According to the Office of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness, students complete around 20,000 student course evaluations over a three-week period, taking up both class-time and resources, every semester. It then takes several months for the evaluations to be collected, organized and shipped to a contractor to compile and assess the data, before being returned to the University and professors.
Ande explained that the multi-month process costs the university thousands of dollars every year and often leaves teachers with very little time to review their critiques and adjust their lesson plans accordingly.
By switching to online evaluations, the University hopes to diminish costs, as well as provide professors with almost instantaneous feedback, according to Ande.
Furthermore, students will be able to complete the evaluations on their own time, instead of taking time out of class. Besides the physical format and costs, the course evaluations will mostly remain the same. The evaluation questions are identical to the paper versions used in the past, including space for students to write their own personal comments.
Student anonymity will be maintained as well. Ande stressed that through online evaluations, professors will not know which students completed the assessments, nor will they be given the results until after final grades had been submitted.
Ande stated, “Students have to realize the importance of course evaluations.” He emphasized the significance of student course evaluations as the most direct way for students to voice their opinions to the university, sometimes even influencing how courses are taught in the future.
Still, Ande said, the biggest challenge facing online student course evaluations is ensuring that students will participate.
Senior Tanika King stated, “If it’s not required, students are not going to do it, especially if it’s online.”
However, in the first pilot study report, data shows that of the 589 students enrolled in the 27 participating courses, close to 70 percent submitted evaluations, with only two of the 27 classes having less than a 50 percent response rate.
Through the second pilot this fall, UMW will continue to encourage students and faculty to participate in the study as they continue the shift to online course evaluations.