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Course evaluations to be moved online

Published: Monday, March 1, 2010

Updated: Monday, March 1, 2010 07:03

Online Evaluations

Tufts students may no longer have to turn to Tufts Reviews for course evaluations.

Students may in the next two years be able to fill out and access course evaluations online, thanks to a collaborative project by Tufts Community Union (TCU) senators and administrators.

According to senior Emily Maretsky, TCU Senate trustee representative for academic affairs, senators are working with the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) and the Academic Affairs Committee to work out the details of the plan.

"The EPC is still in the process of debating the rules … and debating how it will be done," Maretsky, who is also a features editor for the Daily, said. "They're in the process of moving everything online."

The potential change is motivated by the ineffectiveness of the current course evaluation system, in which students fill out evaluation forms in class at the end of the semester, according to Nunu Luo, sophomore senator and chair of the Senate's Education Committee. "The reason for the switch is that the other system is completely outdated," she said.

Luo added that the current method of collecting evaluations is inefficient, especially in terms of processing and compiling the data.

"We do them by hand … It consists of two permanent workers in Dowling … sorting files … and putting them on floppy disks," she said. "We need to keep up to date and use a more technologically [advanced] system."

Junior Sam Wallis, who last semester initiated the project as the TCU Senate representative to the EPC, said that the outdated system made course evaluations less useful for professors.

"The turnaround time is so long that it's ineffective … as a tool for teachers to gauge themselves because they're already four months into teaching another class," he said.

Wallis also noted that the window for students to complete evaluations was overly limited. "Because people don't show up on the last day, all the evaluations don't get done," he said. "Only the people who make it to the end get to rate their professors."

Maretsky highlighted the results of last semester's TCU Senate survey, which showed that students felt course evaluations had no effect. She last month presented a proposal to the AAC that cited these survey results.

"One question [asked] ‘do you think course evaluations make an impact?'" she said. "About 56 percent of people thought [the evaluations] had little to no impact … and about 90 percent would [likely] read them if they were online."

Some have proposed that evaluations also be made available for students to view online.Luo pointed out that making course evaluations accessible to students would help them be more informed.

"It's a great resource for students," she said. "It will help students get a better idea of what you're going into the class expecting."

According to Wallis, this project to move course evaluations online is a main focus for the EPC this semester. TCU senators have been participating in EPC meetings, and another one is scheduled for this morning to make more decisions on the transition.

One of the issues under debate is how accessible these course evaluations will be.

"[The EPC] has been working over what's involved … if faculty or departments will be able to prevent their evaluations from being posted online," Luo said. "We've been discussing whether there gets to be an ‘opt out' clause for professors."

Maretsky noted that professors are often concerned about the publicity of online evaluations.

Luo highlighted that this discussion was both a consultative and collaborative process. "The administration is dealing with this, and they really want to know what students think," she said. "Students and administrators are working together to bring this change."

Wallis explained that he and other senators last semester studied the systems in place at 30 other schools that shared similarities with Tufts, in order to get a basic resolution passed on the principles of the idea.

"We spoke to registrars and deans, and … they all used online evaluations and they all had overwhelmingly positive feedback," he said.

Tufts would likely make the switch to an online system based on the one employed by Northwestern University, where everyone in the school community can access the online evaluations, according to Maretsky.

"Northwestern had one of the best ones from the group we looked at … it was well put together," Wallis said.

Noting the difficulty of ensuring that students complete evaluations outside of class, Wallis added that Tufts will consider withholding students' grades for a week if they do not comply.

"It's not too much of a penalty," he said. "But it's enough to get people to do it, even when they're not in class."

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