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Evaluations' effectiveness debated

If there's one sure sign students can count on every year to remind them the semester is coming to a close, it's teacher evaluations.

Passed out in classes and arriving in e-mail inboxes, the surveys filled out to rate professors and classes tend to draw mixed opinions on whether they are effective. Many students don't even take the time to fill them out. Some professors say they don't get the results until deep into the next semester.

UB officials say, however, that the evaluations are not only analyzed, but they often play a role in the methods employed when a course is taught in the future.

While some professors and instructors say they don't get back the evaluation results timely enough for them to matter, the evaluations are available for downloading or viewing immediately upon submission of final grades, according to Peter Gold, associate dean for general education in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students can access the results on the Student Association Web site, where the information is posed to help students choose courses.

Gold said the evaluations are tabulated and compiled in real time, which allows for the figures to be released immediately once analyzed.

"The evaluations are intended as a way to get systematic student comments," Gold said. "They are not used for hiring and firing but to improve teaching. The good news is that both undergraduate and graduate students are happy with their teachers."

Rudel Simon, an instructor in the French department, said he is eager to receive the results of his students' responses.

Simon, who encourages all of his students to evaluate his class, said timing is crucial because his memory of the year is strongest right after the semester's completion.

"The responses will help me evaluate myself and what I did wrong," Simon said. "I can improve the lesson plans over the summer from the new perspective received by the students. Just like students anticipating exam results, I want them while the semester's information is fresh in my mind, right away."

Simon said any teacher who wishes to grow, in terms of what works and what does not in the classroom, should use the results from student evaluations.

Kelly Crangle, a senior psychology and early childhood major, said she's filled out her share of teacher evaluations and knows firsthand that teachers read them.

"Once I wrote that a section of the class a teacher taught was confusing in the context that it was presented to us," Crangle said. "I suggested that it would be better if it was taught at the end, with the material I thought worked better and next semester my roommate took the class, and the professor had changed the syllabus like I suggested."

According to Gold, approximately 43 percent of UB's students filled out the online evaluations last semester, which was lower than the previous semester.

The lower percentage, however, was expected, Gold said. Last semester was the first time evaluations were conducted online, as opposed to during classes.

This semester, "we've had about 20,000 responses in the twelve days it's been up," Gold said. "And students worried about anonymity should know that teachers don't see the evaluations until after they have sent in their grades. I urge every student to take the brief amount of time needed to fill it out, we always want more responses."

At the current rate, the number of evaluations filled out for spring 2005 will surpass that of last semester, according to Gold.

As of this semester, the College of Arts and Sciences, along with the schools of pharmacology, nursing, public health, informatics, urban and regional planning, and English language institutes are all using online teacher evaluations. The schools of business and management are using a similar online pilot program.

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