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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Participation drops with initial online evaluations

Published: December 7, 2007
Section: Front Page, News

Only approximately 35 percent of the student body had filled out online course evaluations by Dec. 6, said sources from the Provost’s Office. The deadline to complete evaluations, which are used for teaching awards, tenure decisions, and the Course Evaluation Guide, is Dec. 12.

“We’re basically pleased with where we’re at in this stage of the process, but we still need students to complete their online evaluations,” said Provost Marty Krauss.

“We’ve sent emails out to faculty members whose classes have less than at 30 percent rate, urging students to complete them…to keep the energy up for doing these evaluations,” she remarked.

Krauss said she expects more students to complete the evaluations before the Dec. 12 deadline. She added that computers were put in place in the Usdan Student Center to facilitate evaluation completion, and that she has enlisted Community Advisors to assist her in broadcasting the new system to the students.

Other campuses in the New England area such as Wellesley College have implemented similar online evaluations. While Brandeis has entered student participants into a raffle to encourage participation, other colleges have barred students from reviewing their grades until the evaluations have been completed.

This semester was the first that the new online course evaluations had been implemented, following a pilot program last Spring. According to Krauss, approximately 55 percent of the students completed the online evaluations.

When asked about participation during the previous system of completing printed copies of the evaluations during class, Krauss stated that student response was between 70 and 80 percent, because professors “had a captive audience.”

Still, “when other universities switch to an online process, they report a dip in the percentage responding—initially—but they always come back,” clarified Krauss. “Part of it is people have to get used to the new system,” she said.

Responses to the new system were mixed. Brian Melcher ’10 said, “I like the fact that thousands of sheets of paper are now being saved due to electronic evaluations. I think they are easier to do online, because you don’t have to fill in stupid bubbles.” He added, “I think that it is more convenient to do them online because a lot of professors hand out lengthy final exams and the evaluations often cut into exam taking time.”

Alex Martynov ’08 said “I actually think that it is much better… [but] I feel it might have a negative aspect in that people don’t feel forced to do it… like inside the classroom… and therefore many won’t do it, or will procrastinate and forget to.”

“It’s obviously easier for me, but there may be a problem in compliance. A professor can ask students to log on and complete the evaluations but if they don’t want to bother, there’s not much you can do to persuade them,” said Professor Thomas Doherty (AMST).

“Under the old system, when you handed out the evaluation sheets in class, asked a student to collect the forms and turn them in the departmental administrator, and then split, you were pretty much assured that every student in the room would complete the evaluations,” he said.

“The evaluations really are a very useful way to improve your teaching and to find out what works with your students and what doesn’t,” he added.

Krauss explained she did not use a punitive system to induce students to complete the evaluations because “I didn’t want to use sticks, I wanted to use carrots…I would rather base it on the sense of responsibility of the Brandeis campus, and develop a culture at the university of this being part of a course.”

Still, she said, “if it doesn’t work, we’ll have to rethink it.”