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Student course evaluations to be completed online

Published: Friday, November 30, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:11

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Student course evaluations will now be filled out online on Trunk rather than on paper.

 

For the first time, students will now complete end-of-the-semester course evaluations on the internet during their own time, rather than in class on paper. The aim of moving course evaluations online is to improve the efficiency of processing and accessing the evaluation data.

In previous semesters, professors allotted time for students to complete paper course evaluations in class. The forms, which are now available on Trunk, opened Nov. 26 and will close Dec. 10 at midnight. 

“With all the changes that have been happening, with Trunk and [the Student Information System] (SIS), it seemed like the perfect time to change another old antiquated system,” Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Vice President Meredith Goldberg, a senior, said. 

Whereas the paper system was riddled with organizational issues, the online system opens up many new opportunities for accessing information about courses and professors, according to Professor and Chair of Geology Jack Ridge, the convener of the Education Policy Committee (EPC)’s Student Course Evaluation (SCE) Subcommittee, which leads the project. 

For example, he said that digitizing the process will allow professors to see evaluations from their students within a week, rather than the months it previously took.

TCU Senate initiated the project in the fall semester of the 2009-2010 academic year, and the process has been ongoing since then.

With the heavy workload during finals period, many students said they do not have enough time to fill out such forms in class — a sentiment understood by those who worked to convert the system from paper to online, according to junior Christopher Ghadban, chair of the TCU Senate Education Committee. 

“Allowing students time in class may help participation, but often time set aside in class is short and it prompts students to give very short written responses,” Ridge said. “The Student Course Evaluation Subcommittee is hoping, like at other institutions, that the online written responses will be more reflective and informative.”

In an effort to prevent a decline in participation, some professors have offered to drop the lowest homework grade for students who forward them the Trunk emails confirming that evaluations are complete, Ghadban said. However, at other universities that switched from paper to online evaluations, participation rates initially increased, Ridge said.

“It is my hope that students will realize how much of a benefit this is,” Goldberg said. “I hope the active citizenship and pride of Tufts will push through.”

Ridge said that, to increase evaluation completion rates in the future, the system may include an incentive as early as fall 2013, such as posting final grades earlier, to encourage more students to participate. 

While this semester’s evaluations consist of the same questions asked in previous years about the course and the instructor with room for additional comments, the SCE Subcommittee plans to alter the list of questions for next year. These revisions will provide questions that better assess instructors and courses, as well as make suggestions for course improvements, Ridge said.

Although the committee is in the process of working out details, spring course evaluations will feature more qualitative than quantitative questions, Goldberg said, as well as fewer, but more in-depth, questions.

Goldberg said she hopes the committee can create a mechanism through which students will be able to access previous course evaluations, a step which could help during class registration. 

However, Ridge said he and some other faculty do not think this level of accessibility would benefit students’ Tufts education.

“We detest evaluations where low response percentages are used to categorize a course, [such] as what occurs with [RateMyProfessors.com],” he said. “We want to know what the class as a whole thought about the course. Personally, I don’t want students looking at old course evaluations.”

Although the revamped online course evaluations are not finalized, those on the SCE Subcommittee hope the changing system will aid all members of the Tufts community.  

“I think the future benefits, and the record keeping, we could have in online databases is so much better than we could have on paper,” Goldberg said. “With the new course evaluations comes so many more possibilities.”

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