Teacher and course evaluations have received a major overhaul - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 8 | Aug 9, 2007
A Better Way to Evaluate Teaching
UBC Brings Student Feedback System into the 21st Century
By Basil Waugh
UBC students may not recognize their teacher and course evaluation forms this year.
That’s because a group of students, faculty and administrators spent over a year giving these documents -- students’ primary means of voicing kudos and kvetches about their education -- the largest overhaul in nearly 40 years.
Not only do evaluations include a new subset of university-wide questions. For the first time, students’ assessments will be shared with other students, upon the consent of faculty members. Greater emphasis will be placed on mid-term evaluations, and for up to 12,000 students, the paper-intensive process will move online.
The initiative has resulted a new UBC Senate policy on student evaluations of teaching, and a modular structure that will help faculties, departments and instructors to ask questions to better assess and improve teaching.
These changes come at a time when universities are grappling with how to make better use of student data and continually improve their overall educational experience, says Anna Kindler, Vice Provost and Associate Vice President, Academic Affairs.
“Student feedback is very important especially for instructors who can use it to inform and improve their teaching practice, but also as a means for assessing teaching quality at the institutional level,” says Kindler, who co-led the modernization effort with Joy Johnson, Chair of the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee.
Kindler says the university-wide questions look at the instructors’ performance in four main areas: how effective they are in communicating course objectives and content, encouraging student active learning, implementing appropriate assessment strategies and establishing a good rapport with the students.
“We worked with students to ensure that the university-wide questions cover the information they need most,” says Kindler. “And by making student evaluations of teaching consistent in their general format and frequency of administration we will now be in a better position to systematically keep track of our performance over time.”
Giving students access to the assessments of their peers is a huge advantage, says Jeff Friedrich, President of UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS).
“It helps students choose courses and instructors that fit their learning style best,” says Friedrich, who represented students in the process. “It allows students to become better informed as consumers and gives them a trustworthy alternative to websites like RateMyProfessors.com.”
Last year, students in select psychology and distance education courses tested CoursEval, a web-based evaluation tool designed for post-secondary institutions. Questions and reminder messages were sent via email and students had two weeks to compose their anonymous responses.
According to Michelle Lamberson, Director of UBC Office of Learning Technology, the results reflected the potential to significantly increase student participation. This experience laid the foundation for a larger rollout in the Fall.
“There are several advantages to a web-based system,” says Lamberson, who led the project. “Students are already comfortable online, plus they have more time to construct thoughtful answers, and a paperless system is better for the environment and easier to administer. Student comments about the system reflected these strengths.”
“One other concern expressed by a few students was confidentiality. ‘Will my prof know what I’m saying and will it affect my mark?’ The system is designed so that personal information and survey data are stored separately and encrypted, protecting students’ anonymity. In addition, the results will not be released until grades are submitted,” says Lamberson.
While instructors never know the names of students who respond, CoursEval allows them to send an e-mail to respondents. As a result, instructors can “close the loop,” outlining how they plan on addressing students’ comments.
UBC’s Centre for Teaching Academic Growth (TAG), which works to enhance the teaching skills of faculty and graduate students, will partner with student leaders this September to promote the revamped evaluations and importance of student feedback.
“We are working to create a culture where students expect to be engaged and feel comfortable giving instructors constructive feedback,” says Gary Poole, TAG Director. “Not just at the end of term, but throughout the term.”