Grading Online Evaluations
Schools see valuable opportunities in moving course evaluations online, but only if they can raise student-participation levels. * By Keith Norbury
In the absence of internal processes for evaluating instructors' teaching abilities, most colleges and universities put the responsibility on students. But is this fair to faculty? After all, a whiff of conflict of interest hangs over the whole proceeding. Students might grade a professor poorly as payback for a bad grade, for example. Conversely, students might give great reviews to instructors who dole out A's like Halloween candy. Or they might not even bother to respond. Now, with more and more institutions moving their course evaluations online, the question is whether technology will compound these concerns or resolve them. Early research suggests that faculty may actually benefit from the move online. Jessica Wode, an academic research analyst with the Office of Evaluation and Assessment at Columbia College Chicago (IL), performed a review of the academic literature on online course-evaluation assessments last spring. Her conclusion: Worries that students with grudges are the most likely to fill out online forms are unfounded. "You actually find the opposite," explains Wode. "Either there is no effect or the students who did poorly in the class probably aren't even going to bother evaluating the course." Indeed, there are indications that online evaluation systems may actually suppress participation among poor performers. In her unpublished dissertation at James Madison University (VA) in 2009, researcher Cassandra Jones found that class performance played a role in determining which students filled out an online evaluation: Students who received higher grades in a class were more likely to fill out a survey. As a result, noted Jones in her paper, "course-evaluation ratings could be artificially inflated because students with lower grades are not participating in...
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