Faculty Senate approved a new version of student evaluations that focuses on narrative feedback rather than a numerical form at their meeting this week. With the approval from Faculty Senate, the proposed student evaluation form will be up for a vote by a quorum at the next University Faculty Meeting. If it passes there, the changes will take effect this fall, said Jennifer Johnson-Leung, chair of University of Idaho”s Teaching and Advising Committee.
Johnson-Leung proposed two forms to Faculty Senate. One was a transitional student evaluation that incorporates components from the both the current and new forms, including a numeral and a narrative scale. Johnson-Leung said if they are approved at the University Faculty Meeting, the transitional evaluation will be used for at least two semesters.
“We”re wanting to move to the scale that does not have numerals,” Johnson-Leung said. “And in order to validate it we must use our old scale.”
The form that would ultimately become the permanent version for student evaluations focuses on a narrative style of criticism. Instead of using the four-point scale, students are asked questions and told to circle an option ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.” Also included in the new form are guided short-answer questions that ask students about the quality of a course instead of an open comments section.
Also up for vote from the Teaching and Advising Committee was a norming system. Johnson-Leung said this would be a way to compare the scores of instructors across different departments while discouraging an actual ranking system. The vote did not pass.
“Classes are not interchangeable,” said Faculty Senator Annette Folwell of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. “They”re not,”
Though Faculty Senate ultimately voted to pass the new evaluations, the proposal was met with much criticism. Before the meeting officially began, Faculty Sen. Sharon Stoll of the College of Education and other members of Faculty Senate discussed the efficiency of student evaluations. Stoll said course evaluations by students effectively examine the culture and atmosphere of learning, but they don”t accurately assess the content of a class.
“It tells you about climate,” Stoll said. “It doesn”t tell you about learning.”
Folwell said the new evaluations would be too confusing for students to fill out, particularly for students who take online courses. Folwell teaches many courses online, and said this new version of student evaluations was actually worse for online students than the current version.
“A lot of the questions don”t seem to translate very well to an online environment,” Folwell said. “And right now a lot of us on campus are teaching online classes.”
Johnson-Leung said the Teaching and Advising Committee did consider making the questions relate to online classes and she thought the questions were general enough to apply to all types of students. Folwell disagreed and pointed out some of the questions that didn”t suit online courses, such as a question about how often a student attends class.
Folwell said a solution to this would be creating a separate student evaluation form specifically for online classes and Johnson-Leung agreed.
Faculty Sen. Kattlyn Wolf of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was not against passing the new evaluations. She said she observed people trying to improve student evaluations for about three or four years, and now that it”s so close to happening she wants to finally get it “locked up.” Wolf said the proposed student evaluations have some flaws, but they are still an improvement from what UI currently uses.
“There”s a part of me that just wants to get something accomplished,” Wolf said. “This is better than what we have. Is it the best? Probably not.”