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Participation holds steady in transition to paperless course evals

BY CAITLIN SCHNEIDER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 6, 2009

Bolstered by strong encouragement in classrooms and e-mail inboxes, about 25,000 students participated in the University’s first set of online course evaluations.

According to James Kulik, director of the Office of Evaluations and Exams, that translates to about 72 percent of students taking the time to fill out at least one course evaluation.

Despite concerns that a shift from the in-class paper format to online surveys would lead to lackluster participation, 60 percent of all the online evaluations were filled out. In past years, when evaluations were done on paper, roughly 64 percent of the evaluations were completed.

The new system follows schools like Northwestern University and Brigham Young University, who have had electronic course evaluations in place for years. Kulik said like these schools, he expects participation numbers to grow in time.

While turnout numbers were on par with previous years, the launch wasn’t without glitches.

“This was our maiden voyage, and you expect to learn things the first time out,” Kulik said.

Technical problems caused delays in the automated e-mail system, which led to an extension on the deadline for submission. Additionally, professors and departments have yet to receive reports on the evaluations, which were initially scheduled to become available on Dec. 22. Kulik said the reports should be available shortly.

While the paperless evaluations were intended to be easier and more efficient, one of the main selling points was the program’s environmental appeal. But, many teachers asked students to print off confirmation proving they had completed the surveys — a request that conflicted with the effort to save paper. Kulik said possible solutions to the problem include e-mail receipts that students can forward to instructors or faculty access to a list of the names of students who have submitted.

“We have to get instructors more information about how things are going, and when students are responding online,” Kulik said. “At a minimum we want to let them know how many students have responded at any given time so that they know whether to bug students to get in their evaluations or thank students for getting them in.”

Later this month, teams will meet to review the performance of the new system and discuss ways to improve it. The teams include representatives from the Office of Evaluations and Exams, Administrative Information Services and CTools. One team will focus on communication and design and other teams on evaluation issues and software design. In tweaking the system, Kulik said the teams will also consider input from students and faculty.

LSA freshman Amanda Gramlich filled out all of her course evaluations without any problems. She said that her sociology professor devoted class time to having students fill his out and that all her instructors pushed for student participation.

“One of my political science GSIs even brought us candy and asked us to please do it and fill them out” Gramlich said.

College of Engineering senior Ray Smith said one of his professors made filling out the evaluation extra credit. After completing that one, he figured he might as well do the rest. Smith said the transition to online evaluations was easy.

“For me it doesn’t make that big of a difference,” Smith said. “It’s probably easier in terms of keeping track of sheets of paper versus keeping track online. And, I can generally type faster than I can write, so it’s just faster in general."


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