U committees work to revamp evaluation policy

Jerret Raffety

The way students at the University evaluate professors could be changing soon.

Two committees at the University are creating a new course evaluation policy that would regulate the use of online course evaluations, said Joel Weinsheimer, a faculty and academic professional representative for the University Senate Committee on Educational Policy.

Some courses at the University already allow students to evaluate professors with online evaluations rather than paper ones. The new policy would ensure there is uniformity in how the online evaluations are administered.

The new policy would also make viewing a professor’s evaluations easier for students and would combine three previous University policies on course evaluations.

Out of 5,938 total class sections at the University, 1,153 used online teacher evaluation forms during fall semester, according to the Office of Measurement Services and Minnesota Statewide Testing Program.

Of these sections, there was a 52.3 percent response rate for online evaluations, compared with a 74.7 percent response rate for paper forms, according to the office.

This low response rate nearly prompted the committee to recommend the use of online evalutions be suspended until faculty members could find a way to get more responses, said Richard McCormick, a faculty and academic professional representative for the education committee.

“Numbers don’t really mean anything unless you have an accurate sample,” he said.

For the evaluations to be valid, they must have at least a certain number of responses, which the committee has not yet determined. Finding ways to motivate students to fill out the evaluations will be a challenge, he said.

Punishments for not filling out an evaluation or bribes to encourage filling out evaluations are not in the spirit of the new policy, he said.

But inadequate numbers do affect the accuracy of teacher evaluations, which have an impact on decisions for tenure and promotion, McCormick said.

The University’s School of Nursing has 26 sections of approximately 200 sections that use online evaluations, said Ruth Lindquist, associate dean for the school.

Lindquist said she is comfortable using online teacher evaluations in promotion and tenure decisions because paper applications are also prone to inaccuracy. She said she also realizes online applications save the school money and protect a student’s anonymity.

Once the new policy is written by the education committee it will be voted on by the University Senate, said Marvin Marshak, chairman of the Senate Faculty Consultative Committee.

From there, it will go to the Office of the President for final approval, Marshak said. The process should go smoothly, he said.

“My guess on something like this is that the president would agree on the Senate’s decision,” Marshak said.

It’s unlikely that the policy will need approval from the regents, he said.

The education committee hopes to have the draft ready by mid-February, in time for the University Senate’s next meeting March 4, Marshak said.

The University Senate will have the option to amend the policy before voting on it, McCormick said.

“The hope is to have the new policy done this semester to have it in practice by next year,” he said.