Online prof evaluations stir debate

By Hailey Hudson

A proposal to replace the Teacher Course Evaluation Program (TCEP) with a new online rating system was presented to the Faculty Senate in the last few minutes of Wednesday’s meeting.

Thomas Sherman, chair of the special faculty development committee, gave a brief introduction to the new Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation (TRACE), emphasizing the notion of throwing out the old to bring in the new.

Sherman said the committee wishes to review and, if necessary, revise the plan to replace the TCEP with TRACE.

MJ Paradiso, Student Government Association (SGA) vice president for academic affairs, said the TCEP is an outdated system. He specifically criticized the format and the amount of time the forms take to process.

While Sherman hinted at flaws in the TCEP’s current format, he focused on the differences between formative and summative assessment – theories he considers an integral part of the question-making process.

Paradiso, however, said Sherman’s discussion of these theories was not relevant to having evaluations online.

“It’s important that we discuss the effectiveness and practicality of the questions rather than the theoretical formation of how we get them,” Paradiso said.

The current turnaround for evaluation forms is at least four weeks, which leaves little time between fall and spring semesters for faculty to get feedback. Often the forms don’t arrive in time for faculty to include the results in their materials for the next semester.

By making TRACE accessible to students and faculty on Blackboard, the processing time could be significantly reduced, Paradiso said.

Sherman said he expected opposition to this change, and referred to a “future fight” when Faculty Senate discusses the change at its next meeting.

Sherman and Paradiso await what is expected to be a heated debate. The biggest controversy is about the forms going online and whether there will be a drop in participation, Paradiso said.

Three of the questions on the current TCEP form are taken into consideration in faulty evaluations and tenure decisions and some faculty members fear a low participation could skew the results of those questions.

Sherman sought to soothe his peers and fellow professors, and said “no student evaluation will be the be all and end all.”

Paradiso said students give little thought to the evaluation form now and it is difficult for handwritten, open-ended questions to be useful. Just because the online system is new doesn’t mean it won’t work, he said.

“We have to believe [the new system] will help us,” he said. “Students don’t see teachers changing and don’t get benefits … This is something we can overcome.”

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