New essay-based course evaluation form approved by faculty at meeting

by Juliann Guiffre
Features Co-Editor

Dr. Rebecca Carpenter thinks that the old faculty evaluation form caused students to rate teachers like hamburgers.

“For classes, unlike some place like Applebee’s, you can’t use a 1-5 scale,” said Carpenter, associate professor of English. “You could say a hamburger can be rated from 1-5, but a 14 week experience? You probably have more to say.”

Several years ago the faculty decided that changes needed to be made in how the school evaluates teaching. After three committees and hours of 8 a.m. meetings, brainstorming ideas and moving through drafts, a new faculty evaluation form was voted on and all but unanimously approved at the March faculty meeting?one that discards the “ratings system” used in the old form.

“I think some faculty were concerned that the forms didn’t solicit the information they really wanted, both in terms of what was working in the class, and in terms of what areas could be improved,” said Dr. Julia Jasken, assistant professor of English.

Carpenter said that some thought the students may have been giving a teacher they liked all “5s” on the survey even if the teacher has things to work on.

“I really like that the new form has more room for open-ended answers. I always get the most valuable feedback from students when they are writing about a course in their own words instead of just circling numbers on a scale. The new form accomplishes this,” said Jasken, also on the committee.

Another change implemented in the new form is not asking the student if this course was a major requirement, a competence requirement, a BLAR, etc. Carpenter said they felt that students felt more self-conscious about what they wrote because it may be easier to figure out who the student is.

The first two questions on the new form ask, “Did you come to class prepared?” and “Did you work to the best of your potential in this class?” in order to better assess the effort that the student put into the class.

“Students influence their own experience,” said Carpenter. “If I teach really well, but you do none of the reading you won’t get much out of the course.”

Over the past few months, the committee, which was put together by Dr. Thomas Falkner, provost and dean of the faculty, has pored over academic articles and looked extensively at other school’s surveys who have adopted this approach, particularly Ursinus and Colby College.

“We wanted to find ways to elicit written responses, and we wanted the forms to be concise and informative to the instructors,” said Steven Pearson, committee member and assistant professor of art and art history .

They then ran the forms by students from the Student Government Assembly (SGA) as well as the men’s and women’s track and field team in order to get input from a cross section of grades and majors. Junior Cody Crutchley, a member of the track and field team, likes that the students are now more in control of how to answer the question and can define it in their terms.

“It’s important to have an evaluation that is unique to every student, not merely some cookie cutter fabrication that for the most part did not change from student to student,” he Crutchley. A member of the SGA stated that topics discussed during meetings could not be commented upon.

According to Carpenter, the comment they received most often was that the time to take the survey needed to be increased to 20 minutes in order to adequately fill out the nine narrative questions.

Dr. Henry Reiff, dean of student academic life, said he likes the greater emphasis on narrative answers, but has one issue with the end-of-semester evaluation form in general.

“If you’re looking for formative assessment that can make a difference in day-to-day activity, you can’t wait until the end of the semester,” he said, adding that he thinks a mid-semester informal evaluation would be a great idea to help with fine-tuning the course. Carpenter thought that sounded like a very good idea, although she doesn’t think it should be mandated.

Pearson feels this form meets the needs of a liberal arts institution better than the old form and Carpenter agreed: “We’ve come up with a form that better addresses the values of the college.

“You can look at lesson plans and syllabi and tests, but the people who are in the class every day are going to be able to say a lot more about a professor’s teaching ability,” said Carpenter.