College Implements Online Course Evaluations

Emory College of Arts and Sciences is implementing digital course evaluations this semester.

The previous evaluation process was outdated because evaluation papers were often misplaced or crumpled and needed labor to process the Scantron sheets, according to the College’s Director of Institutional Research Lane DeNicola and Assistant University Registrar Kait Tracy.

“[With the old process], there were both things that didn’t work and things that did work but were high risk,” DeNicola said.

College Director of Communications Beverly Cox Clark added that using paper evaluations had a “huge environmental footprint.”

DeNicola said he had been looking to make the transition to a digital platform since 2014. Faculty members expressed interest in improving the system’s ability to use the feedback from students and address their concerns, DeNicola said.

The University Office of the Registrar, Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) and the Emory Undergraduate Project collaborated to implement the new online system across all College courses and departments, Tracy said. The College is partnering with EvaluationKIT to administer the evaluations.

To design the online system, Tracy said she and DeNicola benchmarked Emory’s course evaluation system against peer institutions. After finding that online course evaluations were the “best practice,” they relied on a working group of faculty members and students to provide feedback about the project earlier this Fall.

According to Professor of Classics Louise Pratt, some untenured faculty members at a meeting expressed concerns that it would not be possible for students in large classes to complete the online surveys at one time without experiencing internet connectivity problems.

“If [the online course evaluations] don’t work, then [untenured professors] will have a semester where they won’t get feedback from students,” Pratt said. “If they miss a semester, especially if they haven’t had a great couple rounds of evaluations and then they don’t have proof they’ve gotten better … that could be a hardship for them.”

Pratt said she’s “open to seeing what happens” and that the online option could be helpful for students who are absent from class to complete the survey another time.

Clark acknowledged that student participation in course evaluations is a factor to determine tenure promotion, but is just “one of many” that would evaluate teaching skill. She said the team offered information sessions to create a smoother transition to an online system for faculty and staff, and encouraged them to administer the online course evaluations during class.

So far, DeNicola said students have faced very few difficulties with the online course evaluations system. About 95 percent of student responses rating the new process have been “either excellent or mostly good,” he said.

Allen Zhu (21C) said the online process was easier as students could type out responses rather than write them by hand and access the surveys on their own time. He said his only complaint was having to navigate different pages on Canvas to access each class’ survey.

Sydney Leimbach (19C) said while the online process “worked well for [her],” she did not have a preference for either the digital or paper system. However, she expressed concerns about students’ privacy.

“It felt less anonymous to take the evaluations on a computer because it felt like the user could easily be traced back,” she added.

Clark acknowledged that students have been concerned about the confidentiality of their online responses. In a Nov. 30 email to the College student body, DeNicola wrote that response anonymity would be preserved as “responses are stored only with a system-generated ‘respondent ID’ within EvaluationKIT.”

Department Chair and Professor of Religion Gary Laderman said it’s too early to judge the process, but he expects the online system will be more accessible and make gathering data for processes like tenure promotion easier.

“I’m not sure [the online system] is going to have any really dramatic revolutionary impact. But, at least, technologically speaking, it is certainly where we should be,” Laderman said. “I think the older version of hardcopy and bubble sheets is very much a thing of the past.”

Isaiah Poritz contributed reporting.