Evaluations to join Web

Sean Sauro, Opinions Editor

This semester, Pitt-Johnstown students may notice a change in the way that they’re able to evaluate professors and instructors – many evaluations have been changed from in-class paper-and-pencil surveys to an online format.

Pitt-Johnstown administrative assistant Diane Lenio said that, though online surveys are optional this year, they are to be mandatory by fall 2013, and she said she predicts the online surveys will be advantageous.

“It’s more convenient in a lot of ways,” Lenio said. “It doesn’t take up class time, and we’re not at the mercy of the proctors (students assigned to administer the surveys) anymore.

“They are students, and they have busy schedules. Sometimes they forget to give the surveys, but that will be eliminated.”

However, it seems not all instructors see the transition positively.

“Some faculty members are concerned about a response, and they are concerned that students won’t take the time to go online to complete the surveys,” Lenio said.

Despite these concerns, Lenio said the transition to online surveys has been readily accepted among most faculty members.

“I have noticed a considerable decline in the amount of professors doing it the old-fashioned way,” Lenio said, adding that, last semester, about 300 in-class surveys were requested, and this semester, only 55 surveys were requested.

She said online surveys should make the process easier for both students and faculty.

“Finding proctors for and scheduling 300 surveys is a big job and you have a lot of problems, so the switch seems really good to me.”

It seems Lenio is not alone in her optimism. Pitt-Johnstown Faculty Senate President John Thompson said, though he can express only his personal views, he sees online surveys as an improvement.

“I like it because you don’t have the logistical problems as with paper copy,” Thompson said. “I think students will like it better, and it will be more focused and less rushed.”

He said he made the switch to online surveys last spring, and while he saw a decline in individual class responses, he was able to receive more feedback overall.

“When you actually look at it and talk about actual responses, I got more responses than if I would have done just one class, and that (having only one class surveyed) is what I would have done if we were using hard copy.”

Thompson said this method will allow students to maintain a heightened level of anonymity and will provide professors with more accurate feedback.

“I’m interested in the feedback and in seeing what the students think through candid responses,” Thompson said. “They have the opportunity to give you honest feedback. Then you can use that to readjust your class if needed.”

Pitt-Johnstown Natural Science Division Chair Steven Stern said he, too, sees the transition as beneficial, but knows of some faculty apprehension.

“I feel that the benefit of the online surveys is that students who miss a single day of class will not be excluded,” Stern said. “On the downside, there is a concern that response rate might be lower.”

He said he does not share these concerns and has faith in students taking the time to complete the surveys.

“In my opinion, students should be diligent in completing the surveys, and faculty should remind them to do it as well,” Stern said, adding that there is also concern that students will be harsher in online evaluations.

“I don’t expect that to be the case,” he said. “Both systems offer ample anonymity.”

Stern said the Division of Natural Science will be using the online evaluation system this year.

Although these faculty members are optimistic about online survey success, some students seem to validate others’ concerns.

One such student, sophomore speech pathology student Bobbi Burger, said she thinks there will be a decrease in the number of students willing to complete online surveys.

“I think the paper would work better,” Burger said. “More people would fill them out.”

She said the main reason she would take the time to fill out the online survey would be if she had a negative experience with an instructor.

“If the teacher was hard, I’d go online, but, if the class was easier, I wouldn’t go on and do the survey,” Burger said.

Similarly, junior Spanish student Danielle Mitchell said she, too, would complete an online survey if she felt disgusted with a certain class only.

“I would probably only fill one out if there was a problem with the professor, and I thought they were unfit,” Mitchell said.

Junior Max Zell said he believes a negative approach to responding to online surveys will be a trend amonstudents.

“I think most people will only go out of their way to fill them out if they really want to spite a teacher,” Zell said. “I probably will only fill one out if I’m particularly unhappy about something.”

Though students seem to be responding negatively to the online system, Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching Director Nancy Reilly said online survey results will not differ from in-class surveys.

“Two years ago we researched other schools using online surveys,” Reilly said. “There was no significant difference between the two.”

She said she sees a move toward using technology in the classroom and believes this system will be a financial benefit for the Pitt-system.

“A lot of schools have already done this,” Reilly said. “Five to 10 years ago, a lot of them made the switch.

“We estimated it will save $35,000 this year, and, in the future there, will be more savings as we go fully online.”