Any University of Alaska Anchorage student who’s tried to find information about a prospective class and professor knows there are several resources available, from asking friends and fellow students to going directly to the department. Hitherto one of the most thorough sources of information, student evaluations from previous semesters, has remained largely untapped.
The Learning Resource Center and the Consortium Library both keep data compiled from UAA’s evaluation process, the Student Description Information System, shelved in massive binders. But searching through them can be frustrating.
“My freshman year I was in the LRC, looking through large blue books of papers…to get information about professors that I might want to take,” said Michael Blanton, a senator on UAA’s studnet government. “I found absolutely nothing that was useful to me. They were a mess. They were useless to anyone who wanted to access them.”
Blanton, now a junior, also serves as the vice-chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee.
The situation prompted Blanton, to spearhead a project, in cooperation with the provost’s office, to make evaluation information more convenient and accessible for students.
“I thought these should be in an online format. You type in a last name and information should come up on that professor,” said Blanton. “It’s only fair since the students have to fill these out, that we get the information back.”
The evaluations will be available on Wolflink by spring semester, but the project may be up and running as early as this fall.
The online information will be compiled from the white bubble sheets (the student description of instruction sheets) that let students rate instructors on things like time efficiency, clarity of course objectives and the quality of feedback.
The Wolflink data will be retrograde, covering the last several years. It will be specific not only to teacher, but also to course and semester rather than indicating overall averages.
Blanton believes that by making this information available to students, more immediate consequences for faculty will be introduced.
“Professors, currently, don’t have to take the results of the surveys very seriously,” said Blanton. “They don’t have to worry about their class size being diminished, they don’t have to worry about not (teaching) a certain course or section the next semester.”
The primary purposes of the evaluations are to ensure student input is included when a teacher is being considered for tenure and during post-tenure reviews.
“The students need to have a way to let the university know whether or not the faculty are doing what we are paying them to do,” said Laurie Johnston, the administrative assistant to the faculty services manager. “The students are the customer and this is a customer driven institution.”
UAA’s evaluation process includes the description sheet and a blue paper called the SDIS comment sheet, which is designed to allow students to anonymously and specifically critique the instructor.
“When a faculty member goes up for tenure they submit a file,” Johnston said. “These forms are included in that.”
After the student has filled out both sheets, the description sheet is sent back to the Faculty Services Office where it originated, so that the information it contains can be averaged and compiled into data.
The comment sheet is returned to the department where it is reviewed before being given to the instructor. The instructor does not receive this sheet until after grades have been issued. The department again reviews the comment sheets when the professor is being considered for tenure.