By Maleesa Johnson
For the first time in Baylor history, all course evaluations will be online.
The transition from paper to electronic evaluations began in the fall semester of 2011. By the fall of 2012, approximately 40 percent of all courses were using this method.
“Anything you do to improve instruction and to provide feedback helps Baylor and, at the end of the day, makes your degree worth more,” Dr. Wesley Null, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, said. “Things like athletics matter, but in the end it’s not winning football games that makes a degree worth more; it’s the academic reputation of the institution.”
There are multiple reasons for the shift to electronic evaluations, one of which is quicker results. In the past, forms had to be scanned and results were compiled via data audits, a task that would take Internationl Research and Testing hundreds of hours. Now, electronic evaluation results are released when the grade submissions for the semester are complete.
“We were using sixty thousand pieces of paper per semester and spending about three weeks’ worth of labor in our Institutional Research and Testing office,” Null said.
In addition to saving the IRT time, electronic evaluations also save class time. Often, professors would pass out evaluation during class. Electronic evaluations can be taken in class if the professor desires, but there is also the option to have students complete them outside of class.
“It’s nice because you can take them out of class,” Tyler senior Sarah Smith said. “It’s just a little annoying because the online evaluations take up cookies and my computer ran really slow after that.”
Preserving time is not the only benefit of the transition. Electronic evaluations ensure increased accuracy. Taking course evaluations online do not leave room for stray markings that could be scanned incorrectly on a paper form.
Research from other universities that have switched to electronic methods of course evaluations has indicated that the number of written comments increased. In addition, the comments are more substantive than what had been received via paper evaluations.
“If a person really wants to provide individualized feedback that they know will make an impact on an individual instructor, that’s where the written comments really come into play,” Null said.
Because electronic evaluations are largely taken on students’ own time, the university has expressed concern for lower response rates. With paper evaluations, the response rate was around 82 percent from the fall semester of 2009 until spring of 2013. Last semester’s electronic evaluations alone received a lower response rate of about 65 percent. However, Null said the quality of the responses overrides the somewhat lower rate of responses.
“We want to communicate to students the importance of completing the evaluations. This is their chance to provide feedback,” Null said. “They’re all part of the Baylor community, so if we don’t give instructors feedback on their courses, I don’t know how we’ll make changes based on student feedback. What we want students to do is make positive suggestions that instructors will then use as they revise their courses.”
Regardless of the benefits, some students prefer filling out the evaluation forms in class.
“I think it’s more productive to have them in class because it gives you incentive to actually do them,” Huffman junior James Herd said. “When I’m at home I want to do something else. Whenever it’s online I just go to YouTube or Facebook. You know, it’s home, I don’t want to do them.”
Dr. Sara Stone, chairwoman of the journalism, public relations and new media department, has been teaching at Baylor since the fall of 1992. Throughout this time, she has seen many different styles of course evaluations. Stone said she has noticed a lower response rate from electronic course evaluations, but has also noticed a greater amount of thought put into them.
“I know a lot of times it comes down to one of the last days of the semester and you’re reviewing for a test and because you are the end, people are distracted, they’re doing other things, their brains are different places,” Stone said. “A lot of times I think the students race through evaluations so that they can leave and do whatever else it is they’re going to do.”