More UK colleges issuing online evaluations, response rate increasing



By Kristin Martin

At the end of each semester, the professor comes into the classroom with evaluation forms for students to fill out. A student volunteers to return the confidential forms as the teacher exits the room until students finish filling in bubbles to match their opinions of the professor or course.

As technology is changing, so is the teacher/course evaluations process, which has been the same since it started in 1990.

Roger Sugarman, director of the Office of Institutional Research, said he’s noticed that many colleges around the country are moving online for evaluations.

He doesn’t anticipate mandating online evaluations in the near future, he said, but he thinks all departments will have a choice.

The Office of Institutional Research piloted the online evaluation system in 2008.

Students who take courses in the College of Communications, the College of Social Work or the College of Fine Arts are probably most familiar with the online evaluations system because those colleges use that system primarily.

Sugarman said it’s uncommon for large universities to have only an online evaluation system because the response rates tend to be lower than the rates for traditional bubble sheet evaluation forms.

Courtney Kincaid, a journalism junior, said she appreciates the chance that evaluations give her to provide feedback about professors and courses. However, she isn’t fond of online evaluations because they take time out of her day.

“Evaluations are for class time,” Kincaid said. “I think people are more likely to forget about the email notifications informing them of an online evaluation, and when they do eventually get to them, they are rushing to finish the evaluation so they stop receiving email notifications.”

Sugarman said students who receive an email to evaluate a teacher and course online and complete the evaluation will be entered in a drawing to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

This semester is the first that the office has offered prizes for evaluations.

“Hopefully, what we’ll see is that with the prizes we are offering we may see more participation in the future,” Sugarman said.

Twenty students will win, he said.

Sugarman said the response rates of all students enrolled in a particular course for the fall 2010 semester were 68 percent for traditional bubble sheet evaluations and 48 percent for online evaluations.

For the spring 2011 semester, the gap closed slightly with a 67 percent response rate for bubble sheets and 50 percent online.

Online evaluations are better than bubble sheets for several reasons, he said. They give quicker feedback to professors and doesn’t take up class time.

Kincaid, however, said she prefers a shorter lecture and getting out of class early on teacher/course evaluations days.

Another benefit, Sugarman said, is that students write more detailed comments online.

He said online evaluations aren’t as costly as the traditional method after the initial online system setup.

Also, online evaluations are more environmentally friendly.

The impact of evaluations

Ted Schatzki, the senior associate dean of faculty for the College of Arts & Sciences, said in an email that teacher/course evaluations are a crucial source of information about teaching performance because they identify areas of strength and weakness.

“Excellent scores are always part of the case for promoting a faculty person,” he said. “Poor scores are occasions to work with a faculty person to rethink a course and the way it is taught.”

Schatzki said professors are sensitive to course evaluations and strive to receive high scores.

“Faculty take the responsibility to teach well seriously and usually are interested and willing to revise courses that are not working well,” he said.

Bryan Coutain, a political science professor, has been at UK for two years. He said he doesn’t get nervous when his students are filling out teacher/course evaluations.

“I think a lot of faculty discount student evaluations,” he said.

Coutain said he’s been told that student evaluations are often shaped by the grade a student expects to receive in the class. The worse the expected grade is, the worse the evaluation will be, he said.

However, Kincaid said she is just honest. She might rush through an evaluation, giving all positive remarks, if she thought highly of the course or professor; but she said she takes more time if she didn’t like something and often will write in additional comments.

“I want to give them feedback and the best feedback is explaining what you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy,” Kincaid said. “There is always room for improvement; therefore, I feel it is my job to give a critical analysis and feedback.”

Scott Smith, the dean of the College of Agriculture, said in an email that he reviews the evaluations in his college, along with the associate dean for instruction and department chairs.

“I pay the most attention to evaluations that are well below average or well above average,” Smith said. “In those cases, I may review all the comments and carefully consider that with what I know about the course and the instructor’s experience.”

He said while evaluations are useful, other factors are involved when it comes to decisions about firing or promoting professors.

Mary John O’Hair, dean of the College of Education, said in an email that she expects all of the professors to perform at a high level, and evaluations and peer review are a couple of ways in which the college assesses that performance.

“We pay particular attention to the student comments as these are often more insightful than the response to the questions,” she said.

Coutain said he agrees that written comments are clarifying, and he’s changed the way he teaches to accommodate his students because of a prior evaluation comment.

“There was a time when I didn’t use outlines,” he said. “I just walked into class and spoke. Somebody said it would be useful if there was some outline.”

Now, Coutain said he uses outlines for his lectures.

O’Hair said evaluations can affect professors in a number of ways.

“Poor classroom performance can also impact the raise a faculty might receive in the same way excellent ratings can positively impact promotion and raises,” she said.

Student feedback is essential to the evaluation process, O’Hair said.

“We not only need to evaluate specific courses but also the impact of those courses on the future performance of the students,” she said.

UK evaluations vs.

Sugarman said the results of teacher/course evaluations have been posted on UK’s website for several years, but not all students are aware of that.

Kincaid said she didn’t know that the teacher/course evaluations are posted online. She said she might read them in the future.

Sugarman said the evaluations process at UK results in higher response rates from a more representative sample of the enrolled students than

“We don’t have a lot of confidence that RateMyProfessors results in necessarily the most representative and valid results,” he said.

Kincaid said she doesn’t use RateMyProfessors, but knows people who do. She said she would rather walk into a class without assumptions and with an open mind, but believes that UK evaluations could be helpful.

Sydney Black, a pre-nursing sophomore, said RateMyProfessors has been a helpful way for her to expect what a class and professor will be like.

“I used it in comparing professors to see what class would be better for me to take,” she said. “It made a big difference in my grades.”