New online course evaluations: what you need to know

As you may or may not know (but you'll soon be an expert) the University of Toronto is implementing online course evaluations this year, replacing the old paper forms. This topic is especially pertinent as the end of term is fast approaching and you'll be submitting your course evaluations very soon (beginning on November 23, in fact, for Arts & Science students)! I sat down with Pam Gravestock, Associate Director of the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation and Cherie Werhun, Course Evaluation Support Officer and discussed the new course evaluation system. I transcribed our discussion for you below with my questions in bold and Pam's and Cherie's response following subsequently. Enjoy!: ---

The Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation have released this nifty video to help students get up to speed on the new course evaluation system.

--- What was the impetus for changing the course evaluation system specifically in taking the process online? There has been  a push from students and the university to take course evaluations online for a while now as it makes the whole process easier to use and access and more sustainable. Students have wanted to complete course evaluations digitally for a long time. Implementing it has been a gradual process to be sure, one that has developed over the past 5 years or so. The old evaluation forms had been around for years and it was determined that the questions they asked no longer reflected the contemporary learning experience for students. We also found that students and faculty were interpreting the questions very differently. We revisited and revised the questions so that they better reflected the issues students wanted addressed — with students being involved in the whole process, from question formation to focus group testing. We also saw a need for a certain degree of consistency among the evaluation forms, as previously there were 33 different variations across U of T. We needed to ensure that we received quality feedback from all students and so our new evaluations feature a number of core questions that are shared throughout the university — derived from extensive, institution-wide consultation regarding the type of learning experiences the institution expects its students to experience in their courses. With this being said, the new system also offers opportunities for customization so to ensure  discipline-specific learning experiences are assessed meaningfully. Along with the aforementioned core questions, every division, department and even professor will be able to customize the evaluation based on the priorities they feel will provide them the greatest insight into how they can improve their teaching and learning experience. Besides the obvious differences in paper/digital substance, what other changes can you tell me about these new evaluations? The online evaluations have a new level of versatility that was impossible for the old paper forms. For instance, students will now have a 2 week window to fill out the evaluation with the ability to save their progress mid-completion. The ability to save and alter your evaluation affords students the time to fill out the document at their leisure and convenience — a far better improvement than the old system which saw many students scrambling to fill out their form in the last minutes of class. One thing which is remaining consistent with the old forms however is the confidentiality of the evaluation itself. Students are not being tied to the data they input into the system, as it all gets aggregated into one collective sum. And as before professors won’t be able to access the evaluation data until after the marks for their class have been submitted and approved. Why is it important to get students to complete their course evaluations? Course evaluations are important because they are used in assessing the quality of teaching at U of T. Not only will professors look at their own evaluations, but so will department chairs and even the dean’s office. These evaluations are used in professors' annual reviews and  during the tenure and promotion review for faculty. Course feedback from students is an integral part of how classes at the university are structured and function – from the material being studied to the individual giving the lecture. Will the data received from students be made available to them? Yes, after all the data is collected and processed it will be shared with U of T students.  A new U of T policy requires that data be made available to students.  Each Faculty is determining the best mechanism for sharing data with its students. In Arts & Science, the Dean’s Office is  working with the Arts & Science Students’ Union to determine how best to do this. Thank you Pam and Cherie for the interview! This new approach to course evaluations looks very promising. Where can students learn more about the new system? You’re welcome – we’re excited and eager to get the new evaluations into students’ hands. A website has been set up which is dedicated to explaining the new course evaluations to students. Students interested in learning more can find it at:

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