Professor evaluation to undergo changes
December 7, 2006
As the end of the semester draws near, UW-River Falls students can be assured of one thing — upcoming professor evaluations will give them the opportunity to either reward teachers they enjoyed or slam the ones they didn’t.
While evaluations are an inevitable part of each semester, UWRF junior Lynn Schneider said she is in favor of a change in the process.
“Evaluations, as is, are not in the least effective,” Schneider said. “Instructor evaluations need to have a section where issues can be addressed, such as course content and how a class is conducted.”
Though the business administration major said the instructor ratings are “a very poor measurement” of how professors are doing, she does have a solution to the problem.
“Give students an opportunity to voice opinion — even just a few lines,” she said about the lack of a comment area on the current evaluation forms.
It appears Schneider is not the only one who ponders the usefulness of the eight-question instructor evaluation forms.
Provost Charlie Hurt said there is a key factor in the question of worthwhile evaluations — the difference of opinion.
“It depends on who is asking,” Hurt said. “They can be incredibly effective if a faculty member chooses to use them as an element in course improvement. Can students or others see immediate improvement? Not as often as they and others might want.”
Hurt can sum up his overall thoughts on the current evaluations in two sentences.
“Effective? Yes, to a point,” he said. “Perfect? No.”
To combat this issue, Hurt said the University will take steps to improve the quality of evaluations.
“We are looking at a number of ways they could be improved,” he said. “I will be working with Faculty Senate and with Student Senate in the spring to see what steps we can take.”
Faculty Senate Chair Wes Chapin said while instructor evaluations will be undergoing some changes, the current process is still a valuable one.
“Because UWRF is a teaching-oriented university, we take course evaluations very seriously, and they are a component in retention and promotion decisions for faculty,” he said. “They can serve as one tool of several that help faculty to ascertain whether they are teaching students effectively.”
To gauge the levels of how UWRF students are being taught, Chapin said the group is involved with determining how professors will be rated.
“The Faculty Senate approves standard course evaluations used by all faculty,” Chapin said, adding that the current form is not the only option for academic departments.
“It is possible that some departments have questions that they design themselves, or that some individual faculty use their own questions, but these would be evaluated questions used in addition to the University’s required evaluation form,” he said.
While the department of communicative disorders does not have its own questions for evaluation, Chair Mike Harris said the results of the eight questions on the current form can be used in multiple ways.
“The surveys are used as a component of personnel decisions regarding retention, promotion and post-tenure review,” he said. “The survey results become part of the instructor’s personnel file within the department. Instructors also place the results in their portfolio.”
Though individual faculty members can ask additional questions on forms, Harris said the current system rates instructors in the areas of knowledge, organization, ability to explain concepts clearly, enthusiasm, ability to enhance learning, expectations, feedback, and treatment of students with regard to fairness and respect.
Student response on evaluations is something Harris said he takes seriously for his department.
“As chair, I review the results, as does the dean of the college,” he said. “I have the opportunity to meet with individual faculty members to discuss the results.”
When David Trechter was reviewing the results of the agricultural economics department, the department chair said he noticed a trend that needed to be changed.
“Our department does look at student evaluations across all the classes and professors who administer them each semester attempt to respond to the results,” Trechter said. “For instance, the overall department evaluation and those of individual faculty members in the department were a bit lower for the question that asks about ‘explanations.’ Accordingly, we are attempting to use more examples in our classes this term.”
Though Trechter does not yet know the results of this semester’s increased efforts, he said there is anticipation as to how the department responded.
“When the fall evaluations come back, we’ll look to see if the explanations score moved in the hoped-for direction,” Trechter said.
While this semester’s evaluations are only one week away and students like Schneider won’t get their “few lines” to express their thoughts this fall, the upcoming work between Hurt and the Faculty and Student Senates may have UWRF students seeing different evaluations this spring.