Professors take course evaluations seriously

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by Victoria Gray

Sonya Buffone wants students to know she, other professors, and the University of Waterloo take course evaluations seriously.

“I reflect on the comments. I think the comments could be an important communication tool. [Some of my evaluations] said I went through concepts too quickly. I was trying to include as much as possible, but maybe I need to include less material and cover it with more depth and engage students in that sense,” she said.

The research specialist and project manager of course evaluation team is encouraging students to take part in a pilot project to improve and streamline course evaluations in addition to this semester’s regular course evaluations.

The pilot evaluation is running concurrently with regular course evaluations for all departments and students can find the link on the portal where they would fill out their regular evaluation.

David DeVidi, chair of the course evaluation project and professor in the philosophy department said part of the pilot project’s purpose is to standardize evaluations across departments and also to ensure the questions help gather appropriate and pertinent information.

“It’s shorter and ensures the questions are questions students can answer with certainty. If you ask a student how well their professor knew the course material, it’s not something they can really answer,” he said.

The results from the pilot will help the pilot team get a better understanding of reliability and validity of the ten core questions on the five-minute survey through a factor analysis.

“We are really hoping as many students as possible take part because their voices are so important and we can’t do this without them,” Buffone said.

She said participating in the survey is easy and fast. The pilot team guarantees answers are kept anonymous and that student voices are the most important part of the project.

“I held focus groups in the spring with students and found a lot of them didn’t realize how important course evaluations were and how powerful their voices are when it comes to their education,” Buffone said.

DeVidi and Buffone want faculty to know that students participate more if their professors make an effort to show that they use the information to improve courses.

If faculty can offer five minutes to students to fill out the survey it would help immensely.

Many of the course evaluations used today are outdated and don’t provide professors or the university with the kind of information necessary to improve because they don’t take current theory and learning or teaching priorities into account.

After the pilot test results are analysed the team will create a number of reports for the university community, as well as educational toolkits to help users, guidebooks, and recommendations for more testing.

Although it will take time, DeVidi and Buffone hope this pilot will lead to a new standard of course evaluation that will help both students and professors.