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Updated 10:00 AM November 24, 2008




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Faculty key to success of online teaching evaluations

An extensive awareness campaign to encourage students to fill out Teaching Questionnaires online during the Dec. 3-9 evaluation period is underway, but those who helped facilitate the move to a paperless system say faculty involvement is critical in making the transition successful.

"We learned from the experiences of other universities that have gone to an online system that faculty encouragement is very important to get feedback that broadly represents the student experience," says James Kulik, director and research scientist at the Office of Evaluations and Examinations (E&E), which administers the TQ system.

"Outstanding teaching is a hallmark of Michigan's excellence," says senior vice provost Lester Monts, who has overseen this project. "It is important that students continue to make their voices heard."

A committee charged with communicating the transition from paper to online evaluations has prepared bus signs, posters, messages on CTools, and advertisements for the Michigan Daily and digital screens on campus as means to speak directly to students. The messages encourage students to Log In/Speak Up, stressing the importance of teaching evaluations to faculty and graduate student instructors.

The group also collected tools and tips used by faculty at U-M (in pilot tests), and by faculty at other universities, to encourage students to participate. The communications team advises faculty to:

• Talk to students about the new system and the importance of student ratings. To help, the committee created a brief PowerPoint presentation that can be found at;

• Remind students that the process is confidential. Student IDs will be separated from ratings before faculty members receive feedback, and written comments will be typed so that they cannot be identified by handwriting;

• Make it an assignment to complete the ratings. Once students complete their ratings for a course, a confirmation notice appears on the Web page, which can be printed out to show they've completed the assignment;

• Give students time during class to go to a computer lab to fill out their evaluations or to complete them on laptops in class (as with the paper system the instructor should step out of the room); and

• Give examples of changes made to courses based on student feedback.

The latter suggestion is the basis of the campaign directed at students. Several faculty members agreed to tell their stories of how they have responded to student feedback.

A poster featuring Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of English, LSA, says: "You said you wanted to know more about how texting is changing the English language. So I added a new unit to the syllabus."

The ad that includes David Gerdes, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, LSA, says: "You said the lecture slides went by too fast for you to take good notes. Now I post them several days before class."

In addition to the promotional materials, e-mails will be sent to students throughout the evaluation period, reminding them of the importance of their feedback.

Last year E&E processed some 500,000 paper evaluations. The move to an online system not only will save on paper but also will cut costs for printing, mailing, sorting and scanning hundreds of thousands of forms each semester.

Other advantages include quicker turnaround of results for faculty, increased flexibility in the design of questionnaires and more anonymity for students.

A nine-member task force appointed by Provost Teresa Sullivan in 2006 and headed by Professor Gary Herrin recommended the paperless system. The online system was designed and built by Michigan Administrative Information Services and the CTools Implementation Group.

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