Teaching and course evaluation forms go digital

Photo courtesy of Branded3

If you have ever taken a course at SFU, you can tell it is nearing the semester’s end when your instructor hands out the blue inked sheets that are meant to evaluate the course and the instructor’s teaching.

Soon, though, there will be less ‘handing out’ and more ‘logging in.’ SFU is joining a growing number of Canadian and international institutions in digitizing course and instructor evaluations.

“A real driving force behind this transition is to focus more on how students learn,” said Corinne Pitre-Hayes, leader of the Student Evaluation of Teaching and Courses project.

A survey done by The American Association of University Professors shows that there is a general dissatisfaction with the approach of the current paper form evaluation. “SFU is taking a leadership role in focusing course evaluations on teaching and learning,” explained Pitre-Hayes.

The new system will incorporate a formative approach, rather than just a summative one. In a summative evaluation, the form is used to evaluate the instructor’s overall performance, whereas a formative approach allows the instructor to receive feedback on particular teaching techniques to see how effective they are and how they can be improved.

The project also plans to experiment with ongoing feedback with a special tool that enables daily feedback to be given very efficiently. 

SFU is also looking into ways to increase student participation in the evaluation process. Even though filling out the evaluation forms is not mandatory, consideration may be given to awarding bonus marks for students who do.

“The university is engaging with students in a way that actually makes a meaningful difference in teaching and learning.”

Corinne Pitre-Hayes, project director

“The start of the project had nothing to do with people being dissatisfied. It was more to look at new understanding from educational research and take advantage of that. We also aim to move the focus more to teaching and learning, as opposed to student perceptions of their professors,” expressed Pitre-Hayes.

“Moving to online was also preferable because of the efficiencies of the system. [. . .] The system has a lot of flexibility and we can do a lot with it.”

Evaluation will open for the students in the first pilot of the system on July 27. There will be 35 participating courses from two faculties — Health Sciences and Education — involving both undergraduate and graduate students.

Pitre-Hayes mentioned that an additional benefit is ease of access from smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Students will be given a two-week window prior to the end of classes to fill out the evaluations. For administration, one of the advantages of the online system is that students will be given more time to provide answers.

Professors will be able to select or create their own questions to get specific feedback on their courses. The results of those questions will only be released to the instructors in order to help them modify the course and see how their teaching techniques fair according to the students.

“A really strong part of the overall SFU vision is being the ‘engaged university,’ and this is an example of how the university is engaging with students in a way that actually makes a meaningful difference in teaching and learning,” said Pitre-Hayes. 

Due to the gradual phasing in of various faculties, the plan is for all students in the university to be using the online evaluation system by 2017.