Sunday, November 27, 2011

Evaluate This: A Timeline

Here's something not to mention on admissions tours: Every semester, Tufts wastes thousands of pieces of paper and hundreds of man-hours stuffing, collecting, and analyzing results of the one big, slow survey. It's called "course evaluations," and unlike most 21st-century universities, we still do them on paper. The process for changing that? Bureaucracy at its finest.

Tufts Course Evaluations: Keeping Scantron in Business
The history of the struggle to go digital dates back for years. For some time, the TCU Senate had been collecting survey data on the issue. They seemed to believe that course evaluations should be publicized, so as to better help students pick their courses.

December 2009
They published their survey findings in a December 2009 resolution, citing MIT, Duke University, Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon University, Northwestern University, Hamilton College, Stonehill College, and Boston College as schools which published results. Within the resolution, Senate "encourage[d] the Tufts faculty to move the course evaluation paper system to an online system."

March 2010
That was only the beginning. In March of 2010, the Tufts Daily published an article entitled, "Course evaluations to be moved online," claiming that "[s]tudents may in the next two years be able to fill out and access course evaluations online." Chair of the Senate's Education Committee at the time, Nunu Luo, was interviewed:

Luo added that the current method of collecting evaluations is inefficient, especially in terms of processing and compiling the data. "We do them by hand … It consists of two permanent workers in Dowling … sorting files … and putting them on floppy disks," she said. "We need to keep up to date and use a more technologically [advanced] system."

They better mean the 3.5'' kind
Floppy disks? In 2010? You've got to be kidding me. How long does this process take? A computer could tell us instantly a professor's average score, or sort scores by respondents' statistics. We could know, within seconds, which courses were best rated by students majoring in the discipline, or which reading materials least fit in with coursework. These aren't new pieces of data; I'm referencing current questions. Only, currently, it takes forever to record each response.

In the third issue of the spring 2010 Tufts Observer, a student magazine publication, Marysa Lin's article, "Evaluating Tufts," notes the advantages of a digital system, including faster analysis and increased participation. But the article calls this "A brighter future. soon. eventually." What kind of "eventually?" Perhaps "[t]he Class of 2012 or 2013 may one day have a chance to benefit." The class of 2012 graduates in six months.

April 2010
Despite the hopeful beginnings of a new system, things became stalled the next month when faculty raised concerns. The point of contention: whether or not the data should be made public. And while debate over that ensued, the process of going digital was temporarily put on hold. The Senate argued that having evaluations public would encourage students to care about what they wrote in their evaluations; faculty members were concerned that new courses would be unfairly rated while kinks were still being worked out.

September 2010
By the next fall, staff members were beginning to consider the prospect of going online. The Education Policy Committee (EPC) planned to "discuss" the Senate resolution. That was over a year ago. I have been unable to locate a Daily article since then on the subject.

How many papers come in a plastic-wrapped stack?
November 2011
Unaware of any of the preceding events, most of which happened before I stepped onto Tufts' campus, I found myself frustrated with what seemed a wasteful course evaluation system as I sat stuffing envelopes in a department office. I wrote to the Daily, which published my Op-Ed, "Evaluate this: in print or online?" on November 13, 2011. Drawing on my senior year English class, I took the opportunity to experiment with satire.

As for the current state of the system, the status is unclear. Plans are underway to transition Student Course Evaluations (SCEs) online, but that processes is dependent, according to the EPC, upon the transition to the new system to replace SIS. Unfortunately, it might take as long to change the old system as it does to operate the current one.

Maybe the committee just needs some prodding (and some updated technology). I picked them up a pack of CD-Rs on Black Friday; I'm thinking holiday gifts!

1 comment:

  1. At The Art Institute of Phila. - we do them on paper too - but we have just moved attendance to on-line - YEA!


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