University introduces online evaluations

Students in about one-third of Columbian College courses and almost all Elliott School classes are able to rate their professors over the Internet this semester.

The Student Association and the University are overseeing the online evaluations, which are run through GWeb and were first tested last spring and summer in select international affairs courses. In previous years, the SA distributed its own academic update evaluations; that document has been combined with the online version.

“We have been diligent and up front in talks with the administration about new ways and procedures concerning the new evaluation system. This year the SA would have spent $16,000 on the academic update,” said Ross Mankuta, the SA’s vice president of academic planning. “That money was not allocated to the academic affairs budget specifically, and is available for other student needs within the executive branch.”

Mankuta said he has been working with GW academic planning and assessment officials to allow the SA to have access to 15 of the 32 questions on the standardized evaluation. All other results of the anonymous surveys will only be available to participating department chairs and the professors who are being reviewed.

“The system also brings the administration, the faculty and the students together. We have been working together to perfect the system and have developed a good relationship in seeing this program succeed,” Mankuta said. “I also think that it is easier for students to do and it is also easier for us to publicize the results.”

Next semester, officials will look to expand the online evaluation process in the Columbian College. They did not say when other schools would give professors the option of conducting student evaluations online.

Cheryl Beil, executive director of academic planning and assessment, said online evaluations improve the course review process, which provides feedback for departments and faculty to “help improve teaching at the school.”

“Faculty do not have to use class time to distribute and allow students to fill out the evaluations,” she said. “This is 20 minutes more of class time that can be used the week before finals to educate students.”

Beil said because the results are automatically tabulated via computer, the new system will save departments money in copying and storage fees.

“The few students I have spoken with have spoken highly of it because it is so fast and easy,” Beil said, adding that the University will send out four e-mail reminders to students who have not yet completed the online evaluations.

Murial Gupta, a professor of mathematics, said his department is using the Internet review system in addition to paper evaluations and will compare the accuracy the results.

“This is the first time we used online evaluations,” Gupta said. “(The math department) was asked to consider participating and we discussed various ifs and buts, and decided to go with it as an experiment.”

Gupta said while the new system may save time and money, it also may pose some problems.

“One advantage is that the student who was not in class on the particular day has an opportunity to provide his or her comments online,” Gupta said. “On the other hand, it can also be misused by a student who never went to the class. That’s the fear of several of my colleagues.”

Martin Zysmilich, a chemistry professor, said he has been using online evaluations through Blackboard for several years.

“Students can take the time to take the evaluation and they can take it whenever they have time. The paper evaluations distributed in class allow students only 10 minutes,” Zysmilich said. “Many students are rushing to other classes and they don’t really take the time to think about the questions carefully or to write comments about the course.”

He added that one disadvantage to the Internet system is that “not all students take the online evaluations.”

Some students gave the computerized course reviews high praise.

“I thought they were easier than the paper evaluations just because I was able to take my time completing them, so I was able to make more constructive comments,” said Annie Spencer, a first-year graduate student in the Elliott School.

Business School freshman Katie Miller said she found the online system somewhat unnecessary.

She said, “I thought the online evaluations were quick and easy, but it’s so short that we could have just done it in class and not take time outside of class to do it.”

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