New trial puts course evaluations on-line

By Вen Li

As the semester draws to a close, students all over campus will be asked to complete Universal Student Ratings of Instruction surveys. But a small percentage of students this semester will need to do so with a web browser instead of a pencil.

Starting this week, the university will promote phase II of its initiative to determine if the survey should be moved on-line for everyone.

“Ten per cent of the sections in the fall semester have been identified as part of the pilot,” said U of C Administration’s Dr. Robert Woodrow. “Hopefully, the response will show enough student response rates to expand the program to all classes.”

The survey is accessible to students via InfoNet. It is anticipated that gathering results on-line will be more flexible, accurate, secure, and efficient than with the current system of hardcopy forms.

Students’ Union Vice-President Academic Laura Schultz supports the initiative but has some concerns.

“It’s more efficient and more environmentally friendly, but response rates last year weren’t very good,” said Schultz of the 30 to 70 per cent response rate during the first phase of the trial. “There was definitely debate in SAA about promoting the online USRI with the poor turnout.”

Schultz would like to see on-line response rates rise beyond the 60 per cent typical for hardcopy forms, and stressed the importance of response quality.

Woodrow does not anticipate this to be a problem.

“I don’t anticipate any change in the quality of responses, I don’t see any reason why it should,” he said. “There is a concern if the response rate is markedly lower.”

The committee responsible for the USRI will meet early 2005 to both evaluate the effectiveness of the on-line survey after the results have been analyzed. Further approval from the provost and the Academic Program Committee is required for a campus-wide implementation.

Woodrow said savings in both administrative staff hours and resources as a result of moving the survey on-line will offset one-time costs of implementation. He estimated that if the on-line USRI were implemented university-wide, cost savings would equal about two or three sessional instructors per year.

“I think it’s worth reinforcing that we consider USRI and other forms of student input to be valuable opportunities to improve teaching and to evaluate teaching. It’s important to have student input,” said Woodrow.

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