Course evaluations go completely paperless

By Jessica Schurmann

Lumen Assistant Editor

During an interview with Lumen, Keith Knutson, associate professor of history at Viterbo, dug a button out of one of his desk drawers.

It read “Empowerment…Made Simple! Electronic Course Evaluations.” He said he wore it last year, and he will put it on again when the evaluations begin this December.

One year ago in the fall semester of 2011, the switch from paper evaluations to electronic evaluations was put into place, due to student request and environmental impact.

“Students were bringing forth concern that the system they had would allow someone to identify their handwriting,” Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Studies Barb Gayle told Lumen. “Some students asked if there was a way to make it a more confidential process.”

The other reason for the switch was to save paper.

“We were talking about ways to be good stewards,” Gayle said. The student requests and the environmental concern “collided at once.”

The final decision to go paperless went through the Faculty Council, after being endorsed by Gayle and Viterbo President Rick Artman. “The time had come,” Gayle said.

Viterbo club Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) did a lot of advertising for the online evaluations when the change was first made, which included giving out buttons, Gayle said.

“I’m all for the online evaluations,” Knutson said. “I think now that we’re in the 21st century, we better do things the 21st century way.”

“It wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” Gayle said. “We compared Viterbo to 49 other schools and most of them are already using online evaluations. Institutions have either switched or are in the process of switching just because of the sheer volume of work and paper.”

To give a better idea of the amount of paper used, Gayle explained that each student (undergrad) has about four or five classes, which will require an evaluation in each class. (Five classes multiplied by an approximate enrollment of 2100 students, and then multiplied by two for the copies given to professors.) 40,000 sets of evaluations printed each term, with each set of evaluations stuffed in an envelope by Viterbo administration assistants and distributed to each class.

However, with course evaluations outside of class time, Gayle says in order to get accurate feedback “it does take students’ participation in the process.”

The first semester of online evaluations went really well, with a 77 percent response rate from students, Gayle said. This is slightly lower than the 83 percent average response rate from paper evaluations.

Spring semester of 2012 brought along technology glitches, which caused a later distribution of the evaluations. Students only had a few days to submit them online, and therefore the response rate went down.

“It didn’t work very well in the spring,” Gayle said. However, she said she worked on the technological problems which centered around the “to be announced” (TBA) classes all summer, and the course evaluations for the first half of this fall semester went on without a hitch.

Senior psychology major and philosophy minor Dylan Garrett of Tomah, Wis., does not like the new evaluation format.

“I don’t think I did the evaluations either semester,” Garrett told Lumen. “It was a combination of apathy for the system and the fact that during the time they were doing the evaluations, I wasn’t checking my email as often.”

Garrett said he liked the paper evaluations, “not just because they were on paper, just the fact that we did them in class, because we had to do them. If we spent 15 minutes of class in a computer lab instead, I would totally do it then.”

Chantell Phillips, senior Psychology major from Mauston, Wis. said she did the evaluations for most of her classes.

“I chose them because I didn’t like how the classes were taught. I think it’s convenient that we can complete them electronically, but the only people that are going to take the time to complete them are those that have an issue with the class,” she said.

“The University values the students’ input, and so do we, the faculty,” Knutson said. “It’s the dialogue between the instructor and the student.”

Gayle explained that in order for teachers to improve teaching methods, they need to hear how they are doing in the classroom.

“They really do take it seriously. They try to change, they want to meet those expectations.” (pull quote?)

Reflection, Knutson said, is what the evaluations are all about. “First the students reflect on the teacher, and then the input is for the teachers to reflect on ‘how have I impacted the students?’”

Student evaluations are also part of the portfolios teachers put together when they are considered for tenure and raises.

“This is an important issue to us as faculty because it does impact our professional lives,” said Knutson. At the end of each term Knutson announces the course evaluations to his classes and asks them to participate.

“It’s like voting. It takes some effort. It’s the voice: if students don’t fill out the evaluations then they are forfeiting their voice,” Knutson said.

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