Course Evaluations Go Online
For years, the university has struggled with course evaluations. In the past, administrators experimented with everything from short answer questions to Scantrons, but the paper options were deemed impractical; deciphering handwriting and tabulating responses took too much time. No more: gone are the days of paper evaluations and golf pencils. The New School has discovered the wonders of the Internet.
This semester the university will use a single online form for course evaluations for Lang, Parsons, NSSR and Drama, then will require all divisions to use it in the fall semester.
For the last few years, The New School has sought to consolidate all the evaluation forms used across the university into a single standard form. By having courses evaluated by the same metric across the university, the results will be useful to the university as a whole rather than only to any single division and will facilitate cross divisional hiring.
Another concern with separate forms was that they must be tabulated separately. Ideally, the quantitative results (multiple choice) would be compiled and used to evaluate divisions and schools as a whole. According to Carolyn Comisky, the assistant director of student affairs, many of the divisions did not have the staff required to tabulate the results into statistically useful information.
The new online evaluations will be tabulated automatically, and administration will be able to use the data to track not only how students like a particular class, but to use the data to analyze divisions and even the university as a whole.
The questions on the new evaluations were developed by looking over the divisional forms and seeing what information people were wanting — most of it turned out to be very similar, and the committee used those to develop the 21 questions that Comisky feels are applicable across the university.
“The types of questions we’re asking should be important to any course,” said Comisky. For now, the online evaluations are not customizable, but according to Comisky, it is a feature they hope to add for the fall. For now, professors have the option of handing out their own supplemental forms in class.
Lack of customization was one of the issues that Lang faculty had with the Individual Development and Educational Assessment form that was piloted during the 2009-10 school year. Many students and faculty felt that the IDEA form was not designed for a small liberal arts school.
Last semester, Lang went back to its own form. Meanwhile, the committee in charge of creating a university-wide form was piloting another one in The New School for Drama and The New School for Social Research. The form was online, with 17 quantitative (multiple choice) questions and four qualitative (short answer) write-ins.
The last question asked whether or not the students preferred the online form to the division-specific paper ones of years before. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.
Comisky said that over 70 percent of the students preferred the online course evaluations.
“Online evaluations allow me to take my time and really put thought into my answers,” wrote one New School for Drama student.
“Why’d it take so long to figure this out?” questioned an NSSR student.
Though the students seem to like the new forms, how professors will like them is yet to be seen. “I think a lot of faculty members are excited about it, but nervous that students won’t fill it out,” said Comisky. To encourage students, those that do complete the survey will be entered in a raffle for an iPad 2 and 20 $25 iTunes gift cards.
But Comisky hopes that the main motivation is students wanting to improve the university. She recalled, smiling, that a student in a USS meeting suggested that, “Students should be required to fill it out; it’s important.”
The online evaluations will be available from April 18 to May 6.