MSA seeks release of more class evaluations

Few teachers OK the release of their feedback forms now.

MSA seeks release of more class evaluations

Tyler Gieseke

Kat Chelstrom writes in the back of her notebook when her professors do something notable so she can mention it in her end-of-semester evaluation.

The University of Minnesota design senior said it’s the only way she can get out her opinion.

But while the information students share in the Student Rating of Teaching forms each semester could be helpful to them when registering for classes, the results are mostly unavailable to them.

As part of its platform this year, the Minnesota Student Association’s University Policies and Student Concerns Committee would like to publicly release all data from the SRT’s student release questions — a designated set of questions at the end of the evaluation.

Currently, teachers must approve the release of this data before the start of the semester, but only about 10 percent actually approve the release.

Teachers can’t be required to publicize the student release questions because some include personnel information, said Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Arlene Carney.

In the past, MSA and the University Student Senate have also supported listing the top-30 percent of teachers based on student ratings, but the Senate Committee on Educational Policy didn’t approve the idea after expressing concern for those who just missed the cutoff.

“Disappointingly low”

Designated release questions are included in evaluations to give students more information regarding courses and teachers when they register, if teachers opt in.

The nine questions include estimates of hours per week students spend on coursework and whether the student would recommend the teacher. Results are posted on the Office of Measurement Services website.

But teachers must check off that they want those numbers released, said biology professor Stuart Goldstein, adding that the percentage of those who agree to release the data has been “disappointingly low.”

“I would like to see more teachers release that section,” Goldstein said.

Carney said that only about 10 percent of teachers agree to release their results from the student response questions.

The entire evaluation form would never be made public, she said, because parts of the form include confidential personnel information — like if the teacher treated the student with respect or taught the subject clearly — used for things like determining promotions or awarding tenure.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said in an email that he would like all teachers to publicize the results of the student release questions because the questions are designed to give students more complete information about a course and its teacher.

Carney said it’s difficult to say why the  release rate is so low, but one reason could be that teachers have to opt in to the release before the semester.

She said there also could be some apprehension about agreeing to release the data before seeing results.

Some teachers could be teaching a class for the first time or trying something new, she said, and wouldn’t want to suffer poor ratings as a consequence.

Instead of opting in to release the data, Goldstein suggested that more teachers might participate if they had to opt out of data release.

If MSA is looking to increase the release rate, Carney said, one option would be to encourage students to talk to their teachers about it.

“Maybe there has to be more of a grassroots movement from students,” Carney said.

Alternatives

In response to a push from MSA two years ago to provide more information to students regarding quality of courses and teachers, Carney said she helped develop a proposal that would list the top-30 percent of teachers based on student ratings.

It would be “kind of like a dean’s list for teachers,” said Tyler Dirks, a former MSA member who worked on the project.

The list would be based off of the University of Illinois’ List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent, where Carney was a faculty member for five years.

But the proposal — which was presented to the Senate Committee on Educational Policy last year — wasn’t approved. Carney said the committee felt the 30 percent cutoff was too arbitrary and that there were questions about how the list might be organized.

With little University-sanctioned information available, some students regularly use the site Rate My Professors for teacher evaluations.

Nursing junior Halie Chelstrom said she determines the courses she takes based on the information on Rate My Professors.

The site allows students to post comments on a teacher and rate him or her in areas like overall quality, easiness and “hotness.”

Marissa Kramer, the director of MSA’s University Policies and Student Concerns Committee, said a teacher can have a big impact on what a student gets out of a course and that Rate My Professors isn’t a sufficient tool to learn about teachers.

She said Rate My Professors doesn’t include all teachers at the University and deals with trivial items like “hotness.”

“Rate My Professors has really limited usefulness,” Carney said, but added that students can use any information they want in making a course decision.