Faculty to vote on online student course survey

Davey Morse

In tonight’s faculty-wide meeting, the Student Course Survey Implementation Committee will introduce the findings of the most recent pilot for a new, online Student Course Survey (SCS). The faculty will decide tonight whether to withhold students’ grades in order to incentivize SCS participation. 

The online SCS was first recommended by the Committee on the Evaluation of Teaching in April and May of 2017. The committee, which in May 2017 passed the motion to schedule the SCS to go fully online by fall of next year, stipulated that students’ grades would be withheld to encourage their completion of the forms and tasked the Implementation Committee with revising the form.

There are several revisions to the SCS’s format. First, there will be fewer questions on the online form than there had been on the paper form. Second, more general questions are now at the  beginning. The first question on the current paper form (after asking for the student’s course information and class year) asks for your “expected grade,” which is deleted from the new SCS. Third, space for brief qualitative comments has been added. The SCS now includes a statement clarifying its purpose, asking students to consider “whether you developed new ways of thinking and gained understanding of ideas and information; and if you were challenged intellectually.” These changes do not depend on another faculty vote.

On the other hand, the faculty will discuss and vote on questions about the form’s administration. Notably, though the faculty voted in May 2017 to withhold student grades as a means of encouraging participation, the Implementation Committee will motion to eliminate that clause. Given the system by which PeopleSoft manages grades, if grade-withholding were implemented, students’ failure to complete a SCS for one of their courses would result in an inability to see grades for their other courses. The Implementation Committee observes that this consequence might have been unclear to the faculty who voted in the May 2017 meeting. The committee argues that the punitive nature of grade-withholding would oppose the collaborative spirit between students and faculty that the form should be reinforcing.

Over the spring of 2017 and the fall of 2018, the Implementation Committee, consisting of Professor of Chemistry Lee Park – its chair – Professor of Psychology Kris Kirby, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Julie Blackwood and Professor of History Karen Merrill, conducted two pilots to test the new system. The recent pilot involved roughly 10 percent of College students, faculty and courses; the results, as interpreted by the committee, support the project. “Overall, the pilot run went pretty smoothly, and as a result, our committee feels comfortable with the new forms,” Park said. The Implementation Committee reported, “We achieved a 72 percent response rate for the online forms, which we feel is promising given that this was a limited roll out, and students didn’t have any warning about what would be happening.”

Looking forward, the Implementation Committee hopes to address “what the reporting will look like,” “how the unit-specific questions will be handled,” and how to accommodate with the courses that traditionally administer the SCS in a unique manner. The Implementation Committee also expects, pending the reception of the motions it will introduce tonight, it may ask the faculty to extend the Fall 2019 deadline for the online system’s full implementation.