University to adopt new IDEA survey platform in summer 2019

The university will change the platform for their course evaluation survey after the end of the spring semester. The version of the IDEA Survey that UAA is contracting now will not be available by June 30, 2019; instead, the IDEA Center is introducing an updated survey platform.

A Faculty Senate committee decided in favor of the new IDEA version instead of adopting a new survey instrument. The decision was made due to a “short time frame,” Marian Bruce, director of faculty services, explained.

“We had a choice,” Bruce said. “The problem was that we basically have to get something in play by May because of our summer semester. It really takes longer than that period of time to evaluate any new survey instrument.“

Costs, administration responsibilities and other factors have to be considered, she also said. The new contract has not been signed yet; the university is still in negotiations about the specifics. Bruce highlights that the solution might only be temporary.

“What we’re probably looking at is either a two- or a three-year-contract [with IDEA],” Bruce said. “The adoption of the new platform is really just meant to buy us some time because we need to have some kind of course evaluation system.”

The vendor wants the university to sign a three-year-contract. The pricing for this contract amounts to $46,000 per year plus a one-time implementation fee of $6,900.

Currently, the university is paying about $40,000 on average per year. The costs vary from semester to semester depending on class numbers and response rates. Last year, UAA paid about $42,800, the highest amount since 2011.

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The Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences John Petraitis served on the faculty committee that decided to adopt the IDEA survey in 2007. The committee compared different online survey instruments and concluded that the IDEA system was the best option for the university. Still, the system proved to be problematic, according to Petraitis.

“It might have been the best one out there [at the time], but it turned out that it was not very good,” Petraitis said.

The interim dean thinks that the low student response rate is the main problem with the current IDEA system.

“With low response rates, only 20 percent of the students filling it out, it begs question how reliable and how valid the results are,” Petraitis said.

Bruce also said that the current IDEA platform has some “real problems.”

“It has been very labor-intensive for my office,” Bruce said. “We’re hoping that the new platform will be much more user-friendly for students and faculty… and that will hopefully help our response rates.”

Petraitis said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the new system will be an improvement to the current one.

The new platform will make the surveys available via smartphone and enable professors to set up mid-semester surveys to get feedback from students while they are teaching a class. Petraitis emphasizes the importance of student feedback for the success of the university.

“Students see how a class runs — they see everything about it,” Petraitis said. “We really, really need students views of things on things. Without some system we have really no way of judging faculty instruction.”

Some faculty and departments have been administering their own course surveys on platforms like Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey. Petraitis credits them with “being proactive and finding something that might work better than IDEA.” Still, he believes that a uniformed survey instrument will be beneficial for the university and encourages students to utilize it.

“ I think students have not embraced enough the importance of doing [the surveys],” Petraitis said. “If you want the university to know how well faculty are doing in their classes — ratemyprofessor.com is not the way. IDEA is the official system; it’s the only one we can look at.”

The IDEA course evaluation surveys for this semester close on Dec. 19.

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