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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Evaluations: research for better teaching

By Sangmin Lee

At the end of each semester, students are required to evaluate their instructors. Columbia College evaluates courses each semester because it needs feedback about every course that is taught at this institution. Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs, said that it makes an important statement about the primacy of teaching and learning.

Besides evaluations from students, Columbia College gets information about the quality of instruction from other sources. Another way of evaluating an instructor is a class observation. Smith said that he and the department chair do the observations. After they visit the class, they discuss the results of the observation with the faculty member. “However, the best method is student evaluations,” Smith said. “The evaluation is the best way to get feedback from students about how things are going in a class.”

Smith’s office is responsible for getting the results of evaluations. They gather the forms and the comments, and scan the sheets and generate a report. On the report, averages of the 16 items on the evaluation are compared to the overall college averages. The instructors get a report about the course, which influences how they teach it. For example, if the evaluation warns that the course is not organized, the instructor is expected to improve how the course is organized in the next semester. The department chair also will talk with the faculty member about the results and give advice. The results of evaluations are also used for instructors’ tenure and promotion.

The current 16-question evaluation form has been used for 20 years, but Columbia College is a different school than what it was 20 years ago. The faculty is different, and the students’ expectations are different. As things have changed, the college decided to change the evaluation questions. Smith said a goal of the new evaluation is to make it a more efficient process, requiring less time for students to complete it. Some of the current questions are very straightforward. On the other hand, some questions are subject to interpretation. “One of the goals is for better clarity,” said Smith.

To revise the evaluation questionnaire, a task force began working last spring. The task force consists of the dean, faculty members from each department, a faculty member from the Evening Campus and two students. The chair of the task force, Dr. Cheryl Hardy, professor of psychology, said they are trying to make items more specific and more useful. She said it is hard to use the current information because they don’t know how students are interpreting the items. Lindsay Schaefer, freshman, who took the evaluation last semester, said, “If the write-out questions had been more specific, I would have answered them.”

To get feedback on the new questionnaire, students enrolled in Tuesday-Thursday, 12:30-1:50 p.m., classes are asked to participate in research. Hardy has been analyzing the research with Laura Parker, junior, and Alicia Grote, sophomore. The new questionnaire is still being considered, so Hardy said ideally the new questions will be used by Spring 2011.

 Photo by Sangmin Lee
 The current evaluation sheet

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