Student course evaluations rarely reach other students

by Micah Johnson

No. 2 pencils and light blue Scantron evaluation forms have become part of the end-of-semester ritual for University students.

Besides providing instructor feedback, the forms are intended to inform students about their prospective teachers before they enroll. But often the information never reaches students.

Student evaluation has existed in its present form at the University since 1993. In 1998, a Student Senate resolution recommended that faculty make the evaluations available to students on the Internet.

But faculty confusion, error, apathy or a lack of confidence in the benefits of publishing the results means only a few of them are available on the Onestop Web site.

The Office of Measurement Services oversees publication of the evaluations. The office sends a release form to departments for distribution to instructors. Before evaluations can be posted, the instructor must sign and return it to OMS.

“Most of it has to do with the fact that instructors aren’t sending back release sheets,” said Dan Glover, information technology professional at OMS. “But until they sign them, it’s considered private information.”

OMS posts the 10 student satisfaction responses from the evaluations, including whether students would take another class with the instructor.

Glover said the process seems simple, but faculty still make errors. For example, some professors who teach multiple courses don’t specify which comments to release.

“We err on the side of caution. The default is to not release the data,” Glover said.

Some departments do a better job of encouraging their professors to post the data, he said.

For example, the majority of psychology instructors posted student comments last fall. Departments such as biology, physics and political science posted few, if any.

Lisa Peterson, a department of chemistry staff member, said professors simply forget to sign the release. She said by sending the release form and evaluations at the same time, her department has improved availability.

Evaluations for chemistry professors jumped from two to 21 from last spring to last fall.

Ken Heller, associate head of the physics department, said most professors don’t sign the release because they don’t find the statistics significant.

“We think the written comments are more meaningful than numbers. ‘This guy bored me to tears’ is more telling than ‘high, medium and low,'” Heller said.

Other department directors, such as Richard Leppert of cultural studies and comparative literature, were completely unaware the release forms existed.

“I can’t believe (our professors) are not online,” Leppert said, “We usually get very high marks from the students.”

Professor Joseph Massey, wood and paper sciences department head, was also unaware of the Onestop postings, but said they were unnecessary for student viewing.

“It would be overkill,” Massey said. “Within our department, there is effective communication between the upper- and lower-classmen concerning classes and faculty.”

Tony Bertagnolli, a freshman fisheries and wildlife major, said he’s never looked at evaluations online but said he’s interested to learn more about his prospective chemistry teachers.

“What would fuel me to look online? Probably knowing whether one person’s class is going to be easier than another’s,” Bertagnolli said.

Micah Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]