Truth about online evaluations

By CiaraShook

At the conclusion of each semester, students who log into their Oasis accounts receive a notification about their course evaluations. The few who take time to complete these evaluations send the tabulation into the great abyss of the Internet.

Most students continue studying for finals, but some may wonder where their evaluations go or how they are used.

“I don’t see the point of it,” said Daniel Hill, sophomore music composition major.

The Chronicle contacted all 22 Columbia departments in an effort to find the answer. Fifteen of which responded. Most departments said though students’ opinions and commentary that appear on the evaluations are vital to building an effective curriculum, not enough are filed for departments to know what works and what needs improvement.

When departments receive results of the student evaluations, most look for trends within a certain class—if most students’ responses or comments are consistent on a certain issue.

Many departments have coordinators and program directors  who oversee evaluations within their respective program when the evaluations become available to faculty.

Constantin Rasinariu, chair of the Science and Math Department, uses the example of his department where course coordinators work in areas such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, Earth science and physics.

“Each coordinator is responsible for keeping an eye on those areas and other adjustments,” Rasinariu said.

Department chairs have access to these course evaluations and many look at them to see what goes on in their department’s classrooms.

Though most faculty members take this simple survey seriously, most say not enough students complete the forms in order to create a sample large enough for faculty to get a true sense of how a class progressed throughout the semester.

“We don’t get enough of [student evaluations] in order to do fair evaluations,” said Pantelis Vassilakis, chair of the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department. “You have to have at least 70 percent of the class respond to make interpretive decisions on this data. A big challenge we face is to make students do this.”

Hill’s response rings synonymous with other students. Others say they don’t feel like taking it or

don’t care.

Some students do take the surveys but may not put much thought into their responses to questions and seldom leave comments.

Some don’t respond to surveys because the instructor does not encourage students to complete them. Students are more apt to complete the evaluations when they feel passionate—positively or negatively—toward an instructor’s personality or method of teaching.

“If I have a fantastic teacher or a really bad teacher, I’ll fill out the evaluation,” said Chad Green, junior theater major. “Faculty who should be praised should be, and who should not be praised

shouldn’t be.”

Though departments communicate the importance of completing the evaluations to students, some students do not feel their input in the evaluations about classes and instructors inspire teaching methods or curriculum changes, and therefore do not see a benefit in completing them.

“[Student evaluations], to me, are my first glimpse into what goes on in the classroom,” said Michael Niederman, chair of the Television Department. “In some respects, we need that information. Your expectation as a student is that every class will be as good as it possibly can. In order for us to work toward that goal, this is one of the steps—but the most important.”

Some faculty suspect the decline in evaluations could be the result of their being moved from paper to an online form.

Jonathan Keiser, director of evaluation and assessment in the Office of Academic Affairs, said Columbia switched to online evaluations because it comes at a lower cost, it’s more sustainable and the man hours needed to collect, tabulate and calculate the surveys are fewer.

Some departments draw student input solely from the online surveys, but some continue the tradition of paper evaluations to ensure they collect student input to strengthen curriculum.

Those departments that have the paper evaluations have different forms of action and sometimes students taking the evaluation is dependent upon the faculty member, the program director or the type of course.

In doing this, students are answering the same questions for the same classes twice.

“It’s easier to do it online, it’s more tedious to fill it out in class,” said Steven Schucker, senior journalism major.

Schucker said paper evaluations are an “overkill,” and suggested faculty who give paper evaluations to ensure student input could in class could set aside a few minutes of class time and leave the room while students complete the online survey.

“To a small degree, [filling out paper evaluations alongside online evaluations is] a little bit of a waste,” Schucker said. “It’s redundant.”

Though department chairs and representatives say the evaluations remain the most integral part of assessing a class, departments throughout the college have their own additional methods of evaluating a course.

Other forms of evaluation include peer evaluation, in which a faculty member will sit in on a colleague’s class, completion of the Faculty Activity Report and meetings between the chair, the program directors and the instructors.

Joe Steiff, associate chair of the Film and Video Department, said the department does in-depth analysis of classes, but also observes classrooms and reviews course material throughout the semester.

“Ideally, teachers are reviewing those and making their own adjustments,” Steiff said.

Rasinariu said rather than wait for evaluations at the end of the semester, the Science and Math Department carries out a midterm evaluation.

“In week five, we administer our own student evaluation to all the classes,” Rasinariu said. “It is our experience that by looking at and taking corrective measures right when things are hot, it’s more beneficial for students and the department.”