At the end of each semester, professors wait in the halls while their students shade in bubbles to criticize or praise aspects of the course including the quality of the professor's instruction, the relevance of the assignments and the degree to which they were challenged.
The efficiency of UB's course evaluation process is currently under review by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. A proposed alternative is an online system that would theoretically improve the speed, decrease the cost and bolster the response rate of course evaluations.
Although the FSEC proposal includes access to its results for UB administrators and faculty via the Internet, it does not suggest opening these results to students online. Currently, hard-copy course evaluations are available, although not very accessible, to students in each department's office. They are tucked away in the filing cabinets of offices scattered across both campuses, and students rarely take advantage - or even know - of these elusive resources.
Moving course evaluations from the lecture hall to the computer screen would improve the university's ability to analyze student feedback, which is fantastic, but would require students to complete these surveys online, outside of class. This poses a significant problem. The evaluation response rate will drop considerably if students are expected to evaluate professors of their own volition, without class time allotted to the task.
In order to maintain the current response levels found in the classroom, and to achieve the goal of increased response, the administration will have to mandate students complete the evaluations by including them in course or graduation requirements. This is unwarranted given the present proposal, which offers students nothing more in return.
Regardless of the method chosen to ensure significant response, the university must reciprocate student efforts by returning this information to them in an accessible and useful manner.
Providing this information as a resource to students is one possible method of creating incentive for them to complete the surveys. The results should be available on the Web in easy-to-understand graphs and comparisons. Students would then look upon the course evaluations as a useful means of communication instead of a pointless bureaucratic aggravation. Links to this database could be incorporated into the online course catalog. Course selection would be enhanced by the ability to select professors that fit a particular student's learning style and academic needs.
The distribution of information derived from course evaluations would also motivate professors to improve their teaching. The evaluations could not only be used to help determine promotions and pay rates, but to contribute to public reputation. The recognition that excellent, and poor, professors would receive would serve as a motivator toward teaching excellence.
The proposal to move the evaluation process online is a positive action because it allows for better analysis of the data already being collected. But the burden of providing this data rests on the shoulders of the students, and it is for this reason the analysis must be equally available to students as to administrators. After all, it is the students who are ultimately harmed by sub-par instruction and have the most to gain from thoughtfully constructed, stimulating and interesting coursework. The information will soon be out there on the Internet - now let's put it to use for the students.