Lynn Chamberlain, part-time College of the Arts instructor, reads a few of his course evaluation comments. The comments are not always beneficial to the professor or the success of the class. Photo illustration by Breanna Biorato.
Dixie State University officials are working on changing the program used for course evaluations because the current program is not providing the quality results DSU is hoping to find in order to improve classes.
The Faculty Senate Excellence Committee oversees course evaluations, and has been seeking out a new program for a year and a half to replace CoursEval, which is the current program being used, said Helen Saar, associate professor of finance and FSEC chair.
CoursEval is an online program that allows students to evaluate courses and the quality of an instructor’s teaching. It is partnered with Campus Labs, which is an educational tool to help integrate technology easily for professors and administrators to access.
Michael Lacourse, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the goal is to make the course evaluations more focused on the individual colleges and avoid biases as much as possible.
“Course surveys are a tool for professors to get feedback in order to improve courses,” Saar said. “The feedback you get from there is about as good as the surveys themselves; they are not a very helpful tool for faculty.”
Susan Ertel, associate professor of English and Faculty Senate president-elect, said course evaluations cover if a syllabus was provided, if you find things easily on the Canvas page, and eventually goes into what the student’s opinion is on how the class was taught.
“There are questions about teaching strategy, how available the faculty member was, what students enjoyed most or struggled most with in the class,” Ertel said.
The FSEC has found that the current course evaluation system is not providing helpful information to assist professors in knowing what is or isn’t working in their classes, Ertel said.
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The FSEC is looking for a program that shares information well between Canvas and Interfolio to help streamline the surveys and allow for more frequent evaluations to assist in improving classes, Ertel said.
Saar said the FSEC is looking for a program that will focus purely on the content of the class and not on whether a student liked the professor or not.
“We are working for a university, we are employees, even our supervisors are not there to judge us,” Saar said. “This is not a popularity contest.”
Faculty members are looking for more candid feedback to have continuous improvement, not just a survey that mimics restaurant rating websites like Yelp, Saar said.
Other kinds of bias that will hopefully be eliminated in the new evaluations are sexist and racist comments. Faculty of color and women are commonly rated more harshly than white males, Ertel said.
“A female teaching a class is going to get comments on course evaluations about how she dresses while male colleagues often don’t have to put up with that,” Ertel said. “Students will inherently rate a female teacher lower than a male teacher.”
Ertel said a study showed when a man and a woman taught the same class the participants of the study rated the woman lower. When they weren’t allowed to know whether a man or a woman taught the class, they still rated who they thought was the woman lower. In reality, they had actually rated the same man lower than they had earlier.
“An instructor who speaks with an accent will almost always get evaluated at a lower rate than an instructor who speaks English as a native language,” Ertel said. “That has nothing to do with that instructor’s ability to teach that class… it just has to do with an internal bias that people have against those with an accent.”
She said the FSEC hopes to be able to control more of that bias with a new course evaluation system and find more accurate information that actually deals with the quality of the course.
Lacourse said he cannot reveal what program the FSEC is hoping to use or when DSU will be changing the software at this time because of the contract the university currently has in place with CoursEval.
“In our new mission statement, we are an open, inclusive, comprehensive, polytechnic university,” Lacourse said. “We’re trying to improve faculty life; this will streamline the process for them, and it’s easier to get feedback and use feedback in a timely way to help them improve their teaching.”