Faculty want to change course evaluations, citing discrimination

Course Evaluations icon in Duckweb. (Picture from Duckweb)

Students do not have to wait until they submit their course evaluations to receive their final grades now that the university senate and the Office of the Provost eliminated these holds to better serve students and alleviate the burden on the Registrar’s Office, university senate president Bill Harbaugh said.

Course evaluations have been redesigned after a study showed that UO’s evaluations were biased and did not measure quality of teaching. The new evaluations, now called student experience surveys, will be phased in through fall 2019 and spring 2020.

“We were still going to end [the grade hold] in the fall with the new evaluations. But once we started talking about it, we thought why not end this thing now?” Harbaugh said.

One of the major reasons the hold is being lifted is because it prevented advisors from seeing student grades. At the end of each term, there was a population of students that needed to see their final grades to plan their schedule for the following term, Harbaugh said.

The Office of the Registrar would receive multiple calls asking to waive the grade holds for students so they can talk with their advisors in an informed way before scheduling their classes for the next term.

This is important in situations where a student needs to know if they passed a class before either retaking the class or moving on to the next course in a sequence.

“The only real consequence is that students will be less likely to fill out evaluations,” Harbaugh said. “But we already know that the [current] evaluations are biased against women and not correlated with good teaching. So, do we really want a high response rate on a bad survey?”

Harbaugh said the new student experience surveys will be ushered in next academic year, with the burden of completing course evaluations put on the instructors rather than the students.

It’s likely course evaluations will be conducted in class to ensure students give the instructor feedback, according to the motion.

The new course evaluation tool includes a midterm assessment and a final review that are optional for students. Harbaugh said instructors can use class time to conduct these evaluations.

“That’s actually the way we used to do it. We had paper scantrons. You would designate one student as the monitor and the students would fill them out and put them all in an envelope and take it to the department,” Harbaugh said.

The senate and provost office are working to create procedures that remove student experience surveys that are completed by those found responsible for academic misconduct, according to the motion.

A sample of what the student experience survey could look like can be found on the Provost’s website.

On April 10, the university senate passed the motion to approve the student experience surveys.

The senate has been working since 2017 to create less biased, more effective tools to assess professors. It has worked with the Provost office as well to reach student groups and get feedback. A timeline of the process can be found on the Provost website.

Course evaluations will not use numerical ranking systems and will instead offer specific prompts that ask more direct questions, according to the senate motion.

“What we’re trying to get people to do is improve their teaching. So, we want them to demonstrate that they are trying to improve their teaching,” Harbaugh said.