by Taylor Smallwood
Course evaluations have been sent by email to students to complete by the end of the semester in order for Juniata to assess professors for promotions and possibly course revisions.
“When faculty first come to Juniata, they are in different places in their promotion process. In order to progress into the various promotions, they have to be evaluated,” said Renee Lucas, educational services assistant.
Course evaluations completed by students are significant in the reviewing process. “The most important thing in tenure and promotion consideration is teaching effectiveness. The most important way that the committee judges teaching effectiveness is through these student evaluation reports. So the purpose of them is to provide the Personnel Evaluations Committee with that information,” said David Sowell, professor of history and chair of the history department.
“I think course evaluations are very important. Not only are they helpful for professors who are eligible for promotion, but they’re also helpful for future students. By using our voice to tweak the way a course is taught, we are ensuring that future Juniatians get the best possible experience,” said senior Shalen Perehinec.
Student evaluations are highly considered. “Certainly, the information that students provide matters enormously as we evaluate our colleagues who are being evaluated for tenure and promotion,” said Provost Lauren Bowen.
“I can assure you, and all the students, that when they fill out an evaluation for a faculty member who is up for evaluation, that all of that material gets read and is seriously considered, so it’s not a waste of time,” said Loren Rhodes, chair of the information technology department.
The course evaluations are assessed by a variety of people. “The faculty who are up for promotion can read those evaluations. Then the department chair has access to those evaluations. The Provost then sees those evaluations. Then, there’s a committee, called the Personnel Evaluation committee, they all read those student evaluations,” said Lucas.
Some professors are required to have different numbers of evaluated courses. “Each faculty member is required to have one class each year evaluated by students. Anyone who is up for tenure, promotion or contract renewal is required to have two years of consistent data where all the classes have been evaluated,” said Sowell.
As well as evaluation of faculty up for promotion, the course evaluations are used to make changes within the classroom. “Students should evaluate courses because the information and feedback they provide, instructors read, consider and make adjustments. That’s how they learn to be better teachers. Teaching is a dynamic endeavor. We’re always trying to improve and strengthen what we do. Without the feedback from students about how assignments work or how texts work, we can’t get any better,” said Bowen.
“I believe that course evaluations are pretty important because they serve as a mechanism of feedback and allow professors to hear the opinion of the class and make adjustments to the course if need be,” said freshman Lance Burk.
“I don’t mind completing course evaluations. Professors grade us all of the time, so I like having the opportunity to grade them,” said Perehinec.
The current lack of student participation is a concern for the evaluation process. “I just think it’s the workload that students have, and they just don’t see (the evaluations) as a priority. I wish there was some way we could make it a priority. I wish they somehow knew how important they are,” said Lucas.
Some people have opinions about why course evaluations get brushed aside. “I feel that course evaluations are usually put aside because there is no incentive to do them and students feel no need to critique a class that they will no longer be taking,” said Burk.
“They don’t understand the value of them. More realistically, it’s because (students) are busy. You get flooded with emails asking you to do this or do that. April is a crazy time of the year and November is a crazy time of the year,” said Sowell.
If not enough students participate, the courses cannot be evaluated. “If we don’t have a 35% response rate for a particular class for an evaluation, then the PEC does not evaluate that class. It says ‘not enough data available,’” said Lucas.
Some students have suggestions to achieve higher student participation. “Incentives are always a plus, and in college, the only real incentive is food. Juniata could consider having an exclusive event, such as a pizza party, nacho bar or ice cream bar for students who complete their course evaluations. Juniata could also enter the names of students who completed their course evaluations into a raffle to win a cool prize,” said Perehinec.
“In order to increase the participation rate of students for course evaluations, an incentive or taking time out of class for the entire group of students to fill out the evaluation would increase participation, in my opinion,” said Burk.
Whether incentives are provided or not, student evaluations can impact future students and faculty. “Realize how important this is to two groups. One, it’s extraordinarily important to other students because if faculty members don’t get feedback on what’s working and what’s not working, other students are going to pay the consequences of that. So this is really to create a better teaching environment,” said Sowell. “The other person that it’s really important to is the faculty member.”
“Try to carve out the time because (you should) know that we are examining it and taking it very seriously. I think it’s one of the best ways for students to have voice in their education,” said Bowen.