As the school year comes to an end, it’s time to contemplate some of the new projects that Western pursued — notably moving course evaluations online.
The first year of online evaluations have provided insights on its benefits, drawbacks and future applications.
Student turnout was one of the biggest concerns because these evaluations have an impact on a professor’s promotion or tenure opportunities. They also provide both the professor and Western’s administration an important student perspective.
According to John Doerksen, Western’s vice provost academic programs and students, these concerns were alleviated with the response rates of the fall evaluations.
Recognizing there was a possibility for some hiccups in such a large transition, Doerksen had made a 50 per cent turnout rate his personal goal for the project, and the results well surpassed this goal.
This past fall, 61 per cent of students completed the online evaluations. In comparison, the response rates of the previous year, which used a paper method, were 60 per cent.
“We had, effectively, the same response rate with the online system that we had had with the paper system the previous year. In fact, we were one per cent higher,” Doerksen said.
Students seem to be happy with the digital shift. In fact, according to Doerksen, 92 per cent of the students who responded to the satisfaction survey sent out after the first online evaluations were satisfied with the new method.
Krishna Allam, a second-year medical science student, was optimistic about the benefits of going paperless.
“I think that it is better because it’s just easier to organize everything. You won’t have to go through a bunch of papers and type out everything again, you just have to assess the quality of the comments,” Allam said.
Despite the positive response, there are still aspects of the new system that need improvement.
Tina Rotolo, a fourth-year kinesiology student, noted that although she is happy with the transition, anonymity continues to be an issue that should be further pursued.
“I think they’re more effective just because everything is done online now, but I also think that they’re less effective because since it’s done on a student identification now; is it really an anonymous system anymore?” Rotolo asked.
Both Allam and Rotolo filled out the online evaluations this past fall.
Doerksen himself acknowledged that the process will be evolving for next year.
Some of the changes that his team is looking to implement include enabling academic units to add their own unique questions — specific only to their students — and allowing instructors to have evaluations throughout the course.
According to Anne Bigelow, University of Western Ontario faculty association (UWOFA) president, these are important considerations to be made.
"We had a working group last year that was involved in talking to the university about how these questionnaires are used," Bigelow said. "We think those are good modifications to the way that questionnaires are done because it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It depends on how a course is taught, the space that you’re in, the pedagogy used by the instructor, all of those things are important considerations."
These changes will be made in the upcoming years.
“The whole idea is that it’s formative feedback. It’s not summative, it’s formative. That way a faculty member can feel that this is a pedagogical technique that’s working or that needs further focus,” Doerksen said.
Online evaluations have just opened up again for full-term and spring semester courses. Students can access these evaluation sheets with their Western log-in.