The University Record, February 25, 1997

Cook reviews new student evaluation forms at Assembly

Constance E. Cook, director of the Center for Research, Learning and Teaching (CRLT), and James Kulik, research scientist at CRLT, spoke to Senate Assembly last week about recent changes made in student ratings forms, which are used to evaluate faculty and graduate student instructors (GSI) in almost 12,000 classes each year.

Cook said that the new forms, which are the product of the first systematic review of the ratings forms since their 1975 inception, will provide "more meaningful comparative data" for faculty, GSIs, and their schools and colleges. Scores compiled from the forms are now compared with other teachers within the unit, not only with faculty from the entire University. Faculty members had noted in the past that intra-unit comparisons would be a helpful statistic.

Other changes on the forms include additional space to allow for up to five, rather than two, open-ended questions, and a new "not-applicable" category that students may check. In the past, students often were faced with questions that did not apply to their specific class section, but had no means of noting this on the form. Cook added that the U-M has "the most customized system in the country," because professors can create their own questions for their specific classes.

Cook also noted that it is important that units use multiple methods to evaluate teaching, that they should not rely on student ratings as the only method of evaluation.

Kulik discussed the strengths and weaknesses of student ratings forms, which are used at the U-M by all schools and colleges except the Business and Medical schools.

On the plus side, he said, students can complete the forms in about 10 minutes, the forms are inexpensive and objective, and research supports their validity.

On the negative side, the forms can contain irrelevant questions, students often do not know what the evaluations are used for, data reports have been difficult to interpret, and data reports do not explain to faculty how they can improve their weak areas.

The new forms, which were used last term, should eliminate some of the negative factors that have accompanied the process. Cook said that faculty and GSIs should tell their students that the forms are useful tools for improving teaching, and that the students' responses are valued.

CRLT offers programs and consulting for GSIs and faculty to help improve teaching, and to introduce multiple methods of evaluation and other pedagogy issues.