Instructors and students try a new approach to teaching and course evaluation

October 16, 2013

Last year the Vice-President, Academic, established a Teaching and Course Evaluation Project (TCEP) under the direction of Corinne Pitre-Hayes. The project team was charged with the task of recommending a replacement for the 30-year-old TCE instrument and evaluation process used by many SFU academic units.

This summer, following consultation with faculty members and a review of the extensive research literature on TCE, the project team conducted a proof of concept (PoC) to test an evaluation model incorporating some of its key findings. The PoC involved 14 faculty members and more than 1,300 students in 18 courses (including seminars, lecture courses and distance education courses). It differed from the approach commonly used at SFU in three important ways:

  1. The PoC used an online survey platform rather than paper questionnaires. Students received an email containing a survey link roughly two weeks before the end of their course(s), followed by several reminders. The survey was open for approximately two weeks.
  2. The PoC employed a flexible, customized approach to generate questions tailored to each course. Questions were selected at four levels: institutional (eight questions common to all course evaluations); Faculty (up to four questions common to all evaluations within a Faculty); departmental (up to four questions common to all evaluations within a department or school); and instructor (up to four questions determined by the instructor for an individual course). To ensure consistency, questions that used a rating scale were drawn from a question bank developed by the University of Toronto.
  3. The PoC provided results in the form of tailored online or downloadable reports for specific audiences, including instructors, students and administrators. Responses to instructor questions were seen only by the instructor unless, optionally, the instructor chose to share those responses with students. The online data collection system allowed for the inclusion of some demographic information (for example, gender, age ranges and grade averages of respondents), but the team was very careful to preserve student anonymity.

The student evaluation period ended in early August, and reports were distributed in early October. Among the initial observations:

  • The survey completion rate for all courses, including distance education courses, was 72 percent; for lecture courses and seminars, the completion rate was 82 percent, a result that Pitre-Hayes says is well above typical response rates for online evaluations. One reason for the strong response may have been active promotion of the evaluation process by participating instructors.
  • The PoC collected more data than SFU’s current system and made results available more quickly and in a more contextualized way.

Pitre-Hayes is cautious about drawing detailed conclusions until she completes a review of the PoC and evaluation results with faculty participants in late October. However, she does express satisfaction with the flexibility the PoC model offers for both creation of questions and reporting of results.

The project team hopes to prepare a final report in time for the December Senate meeting.

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