IDEA surveys compiled on CDs for student use

Bacteria in space. Microscopic creatures living in a vacuum. Astrobiology/Biology A365. A dual department course offered by Professor Khrys Duddleston, this exploratory course was introduced for the Spring 2011 semester.

If Bob Dylan sounds better than bacteria, consider HNRS A192, a course offered in Fall 2011 semester that will study Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles.

Each year, new courses are added to the course catalog, though the departments themselves are responsible for advertising them. Whether the word gets out depends on a catchy title, interesting content and opinions of the professor.

Students often consult friends or www.ratemyprofessor.com prior to picking CRNs, class schedules and professors. What many students may not know is UAA has their very own in house professor rating system, completely available to the student body.

Individual development and educational assessment (IDEA) evaluations completed on Blackboard at the end of each semester are compiled and put on disc to be stored in the Student Government office, the Learning Resource Center, and the Consortium Library. Students can check out this reserve material and browse the vast matrix of ratings given by students.

However, most students are unaware the IDEA survey results are readily available. Daniel Long, an undeclared sophomore, and Adam Martinez, an elementary education sophomore, both said they would use the software, had they known of its existence.

Complicated file names, unclear file paths and cluttered documents lead to frustration. In addition, the low student response to IDEA surveys makes most of the professor reports unreliable. Lastly, student comments, useful information to some, are left out of the professor report.

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The student bias must also be taken into consideration. The motivation to complete an evaluation is likely either to voice extremely positive or negative opinions of the professor.

“I’m more likely to fill it out if I didn’t like a teacher,” Martinez said.

Dr. Caroline Wilson, professor in the biology department, also noted the extreme responses.

The evaluations are from, “the ones that were satisfied and dissatisfied, not much in between. Either end of the spectrum. It’s always important to see if the students are happy. You can hear about that through other professors who have those students again, but having it in writing is always important,” Wilson said.

The IDEA surveys provide a score out of five on how excellent the teacher is and how excellent the course is. Gems such as amount of reading, difficulty of subject matter and teaching style are hidden in latter pages of the mesh of information.

The report is only considered reliable in a handful of cases. In the data from Spring 2010 in the College of Arts and Sciences, only 82 out of 471 reports made this cut. Not only are many results not reliable, but they also may not be representative. Only 67 out of the 471 reports were representative of the class.

In the end, only 31 reports were both reliable and representative.

In her anatomy and physiology course last semester, Wilson had only 4% feedback out of 400 students. With so few responses, the documentation is rendered unreliable by the IDEA Center.

Long and Martinez also didn’t know that the IDEA surveys, if reliable and representative, are used as one aspect in tenure decisions. Kimberly Sanderson, civil engineering junior, noted the important connection between students’ opinions and tenure decisions.

“I think students should do the evaluations, and they should be considered in tenure. Students opinions on professors should be considered,” Sanderson said.

Considering the unreliability and inaccessibility of the discs as well as the omission of student comments, www.ratemyprofessor.com may still be the most popular professor research tool. But if it’s data students are seeking, IDEA reports are one option to make an informed decision.