Dal, King’s move course evaluations online

Students can access evaluations (almost) anywhere with a wireless connection

Sebastian Anderson
Sebastien Anderson fills out a course evaluation online. (Photo: Clark Jang)

Dalhousie and King’s are moving Student Ratings of Instruction (SRIs) – otherwise known as course evaluations – to a paperless format.

While students will still be allotted 15 minutes in class to fill out the evaluation online — as was the case with the paper SRIs — the move means students can also complete their evaluation during the last two weeks of class from any device with Internet access through their Dal email account.

Students can access the online SRIs between Nov. 19 and midnight on Dec. 4

SRIs are used for:

  • Evaluating professor effectiveness
  • Consideration for tenure, promotion, awards, and grants
  • Quality assurance
  • Boosting teaching and learning profiles at Dalhousie and King’s

Deborah Kiceniuk, associate director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Dalhousie, the department that processes course evaluations, refused to comment on the changes. However, she confirmed the process previously involved 60,000 paper forms sent out to individual classes.

She also confirmed the new system will collect student feedback and give faculty access their evaluations and comments after final grades are submitted.

Saint Mary’s University still uses paper evaluations, but offers online evaluations for distance and field courses where using a paper form isn’t practical. 

Barbara Bell, secretary to the senate at SMU, which is in charge of instructor course evaluations, says a switch to online evaluations is something they would “definitely” consider, as it would save paper and money.

However, she says students need incentives to go online to fill out questionnaires.

“You have to answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me,’ for the students. They’re busy at this time of year, they have assignments and papers to finish so anything extra they have to do on their own time will not get done unless theres a good reason for it.”

She says some larger universities may offer draws for gift certificates – or even tuition money – to entice students.

Sebastien Anderson, a fourth-year Dal student, says depending on the incentive, he could be enticed to fill out an online SRI.“I think everything to do with evaluation is going to be affected by incentives. Online makes it easier.”

It isn’t known if Dalhousie or King’s will offer incentives for SRIs.

Concerns surface

While the move to online SRIs will save paper and resources, there are a number of kinks which need to be worked out. 

Karen Janigan, the communications officer for the Dalhousie Faculty Association, says one issue is a traditionally low participation rate.

“It’s low enough already, let alone online. Students who haven’t been to classes will have the opportunity to rate the class even though they don’t know what the teaching’s been like.”

Janigan says the DFA is also concerned with the speed with which the new model was implemented.

“A small pilot to campus wide is a big leap,” she says. Many professors only learned of the change this fall.

Kiceniuk of the Centre for Learning and Teaching, would only say the switch to online SRIs has been discussed for a number of years, and the implementation has been short and challenging. 

Roberta Barker, an associate professor of theatre at Dal, believes there are benefits moving to a paperless system, but the switch may jeopardize student equality.

“It’s founded on the assumption that all students have easy Internet access. If students don’t have a laptop or computer access, which can be the case for students who have economic difficulties, it may be more difficult for them to give feedback.”

Barker also points out that not all classrooms at Dal and King’s have wireless access.

Neil Robertson, an associate professor of humanities at King’s, believes the lack of wi-fi will compromise teaching evaluations for this year.

“It’s not a good way to start off a change in the system,” he says. “The essence of change is legitimating the process, not undermining the way for it to happen effectively.”

Robertson also says the new option to publicly publish the results of their evaluations online may lead pit consumer culture against professional development.

“It can create a sense that the professors are like Amazon products that you go and read the ratings and reviews of in order to decide if you want to take something from this person.”

But some faculty welcome the switch.

David McNeil, an associate professor of English at Dal, doesn’t share the same concerns as his colleagues. He says the move to online is a logical step with the progression of technology.

“Years ago I thought this could be online — why isn’t this online? What are we doing with all this paper? Why are we taking class time to do this?

McNeil believes the switch could lead to greater student participation.

“I’ve always been unhappy with participation rates in my classes,” says McNeil. “So if we can get participation rates up, it can serve that purpose.”