Change in student evaluation program sees increased engagement
A new approach to the way students evaluate instructors at The Ohio State University is getting results and helping more students have their opinions heard.
The university moved to a new platform for the student evaluation of instruction (SEI) at the start of this academic year. The new platform Blue, from Explorance Inc., is used throughout higher education to evaluate, analyze and improve the student learning experience.
Year-over-year response rates have improved from 50 percent in autumn 2017 to 65 percent in autumn 2018. The improvement is part of a trend as the evaluations have moved from pen and paper to the digital age.
“I think the first thing that boosted the response rates was when we added the mobile app, and students could respond on the mobile app, and that was in autumn of 2015,” said Cindy Davis, program manager for student evaluation of instruction. “That’s the point where over half of the students that completed evaluations used a mobile app. Then in the summer, when we added a new tool with Blue and students could then complete the SEI in Carmen, that boosted the response rate even more.”
Placing the SEI forms in CarmenCanvas, the university’s learning management system, puts them in front of students in a platform they are used to navigating. Davis said it also allows instructors to remind students throughout the final weeks of the semester to complete the survey.
Alan Kalish, assistant vice provost in the Office of Academic Affairs, said it’s important to improve response rates. When the response rates were around 40 percent, it reduced confidence in the results, he said.
“The means were the same. It was just more bi-modal. It was the students in the middle who didn’t care that much and didn’t respond,” Kalish said. “But the students who hated you and the students who loved you did. Now we’re getting a fuller picture and that should be more accurate.”
While the SEI is only part of an evaluation process that includes peer review and self-assessment, it does play a role in helping understand if students are learning and if faculty are connecting with those students, Kalish said.
While the presentation and format of the questions have changed, the questions themselves have not. Students are asked 10 questions about course material organization, instructor preparation and clear communication of the subject matter.
“The new reports are a little more visual. I think it’s a little easier to see patterns and trends,” said Melissa Beers, program director for Introduction to Psychology. “I like that they kept the questions the same and the themes are the same. I like that the comments are integrated into the report so you get the whole thing at one time. I think that makes it easier for instructors.”
Beers said it is important for instructors to remember that the SEI is just one part of the evaluation process.
The new evaluation program comes as the university focuses on innovation in teaching and learning. Ohio State’s strategic plan calls for the university to be an exemplar of the best teaching practices to improve student success.
Ohio State announced a new Teaching Support Program this academic year. The optional professional development program provides additional support for teaching faculty and their work in the classroom.
The program features a monetary incentive to boost the pay of the faculty who choose to enroll, participate in training modules and, over time, redesign their courses as needed to increase student learning and enhance the student experience. It is believed to be unique in the nation for implementing a research-based survey instrument on effective teaching practices across the entire institution.
Beers said these programs and a better response rate on student evaluations could help improve the way instructors continue to teach.
“We have had access to these reports forever. The questions are not new questions. Sometimes, though, I think when you do things the same way over a long period of time, you just stop thinking innovatively about it,” she said. “So maybe this is a good opportunity to help people try to think a little bit more innovatively or take a fresh look at this tool in combination with everything that you have at your disposal.”