Course evaluations: Now on BBLearn
Ryan McNutt - March 19, 2014
It’s course evaluation season again at Dalhousie, and this term the process is a little bit easier for both students and faculty.
In Fall 2012, Dalhousie moved course evaluations — known officially as “Student Ratings of Instruction,” or SRIs — online for the majority of courses. This term, as part of its efforts to continue to improve the process, the Centre for Learning and Teaching, which administers the SRIs, has moved the entire system within BBLearn, the online learning system used on the Halifax campuses.*
The new system means students and faculty can access their SRIs through the main BBLearn site in addition to the link they receive via email. So if you delete or lose track of the original email or the reminders, the SRI form is still readily accessible.
Other planned improvements that are being implemented over the 2014 academic year include that faculty will eventually be able to see, in real-time, how many students in each class have filled out their course evaluations at any point during the evaluation period.
“This will allow an instructor to check and see if there are a number of students who haven’t completed their SRIs, and they can then remind students in class," explains Dr. Deborah Kiceniuk, Associate Director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching. “It will allow individual faculty to take a more active role in encouraging students to take the time to complete their evaluations and contribute to an important process.”
Currently, faculty members and departments are completing their personalized SRI questions (due by March 19). On Tuesday, March 25, the SRI system is opened for students to complete their evaluations. They can do so online, anytime, until midnight on Tuesday, April 8, and instructors are also encouraged to set aside classtime for students to complete the forms on laptops, phones and tablets, or other available devices.
*The Agricultural Campus will use the electronic SRI system for the first time this term, but will use the email links instead of BbLearn as the campus uses Moodle for its learning system.
How SRIs are used
Course evaluations are a key part of Dal’s teaching ecosystem, explains Dr. Kiceniuk.
“The different parts of the SRI form are used in a variety of ways across the university, all designed around helping Faculties, departments and individual instructors to each do their part to improve the classroom experience at Dal,” she says.
Instructors are provided with all student feedback, allowing them to consider it when reworking their teaching and course material. Other parts of the form are used in promotion and tenure applications, supporting evidence for teaching awards and grants, and broader university objectives such as review and restructuring of institutional, faculty, department and program goals. (See “Who sees your course evaluations?” below.) In addition, it is an opportunity for students to provide their voice about Dal’s learning environment.
Learn more: SRI website
Dal moved course evaluations online more than two years ago as an environmental and cost-saving initiative: the old system required nearly 60,000 paper forms that would have to be distributed in class, collected, scanned and shared back with departments. The entire process often took well into the subsequent term and contained significantly more possibility for human error.
The new system is much more efficient for all involved. However, the percentage of students completing their SRIs has dropped somewhat: from just under 60 per cent in 2011-12 to an average of 44.6 per cent across the last three fall or winter terms.
Dr. Kiceniuk says this was not unexpected — it’s been the case at every university that has moved course evaluations online — and that Dal has been working to raise participation rates given the important role SRIs play on campus. In 2013, a working group of the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee was struck and completed a detailed report with eight recommendations for improving the system, all of which have since been implemented or are in the process of being so.
“It’s also important that all of us do our part — from CLT through to Faculties, departments and individual faculty members — to make sure students understand why it’s important to take a few minutes of their time and complete their evaluations,” says Dr. Kiceniuk. “Their feedback is important.”
Who sees your course evaluations?
There are up to four parts of the SRI form:
- Eight universal questions that are the same across all departments
- Custom questions from the specific department
- Custom questions from the professor
- Space for comments — both “signed” and “unsigned.” (Note: “Signed” merely means that the comment is shared with the department head and can be used for promotion, tenure and personnel decisions; it still doesn’t include any of the student’s identifying information.)
So who gets access to each part of the SRI form?
- The eight standard questions
- Department questions
- Professor questions
- Comments (both signed and unsigned)
The department chair
- The eight standard questions (average scores)
- Department questions (average scores)
- Comments (signed only)
The Faculty’s dean
- The eight standard questions (average scores)
- Starting later this year, students will be able to access the average scores from the eight standard questions via BBLearn for classes whose professors have agreed to make these results available to students.
Where does all the SRI data live? It’s stored on a secure server on-campus. While the SRI technical administrative can access the overall data if needed for technical reasons, neither the CLT nor individual profs/departments have access to any personally identifiable information about the students or their SRI forms.
Learn more at the SRI website.
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