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November 11, 2005 > News > Select courses to pilot online evaluations

Select courses to pilot online evaluations

Some engineering and Masters of Liberal Studies courses will pilot an online system for filling out end-of-semester course evaluations. Enrollment Administration Director Diane Havlinek said she hopes the system is successful enough this semester that it can be implemented for all students beginning next semester.

Under the new system, the numerical survey and the free response parts of the evaluations will be filled out online through ESTHER. When a student logs into his ESTHER account, there will be links to fill out course evaluations for each of his classes and links to fill out evaluations for each of his instructors. The separate links reduce the redundancy in the paper forms, which currently require a course evaluation to be filled out for each instructor rather than just once for a course, Havlinek said.

Filling out the evaluations in ESTHER allows students to save their answers in the middle of an evaluation and finish it later. Once the evaluations are submitted, students will not be able to change their answers, because the connection between the student’s identity and his answers will be severed, Havlinek said.

Havlinek said students should trust that their identities will not be revealed to faculty. She said the Administratives Systems group — which is responsible for ESTHER — does not have a relationship with the faculty and has no interest in divulging student identities to faculty members.

This anonymity is a benefit of the online system for students who are concerned that faculty members could recognize their handwriting, Speaker of the Faculty Marj Corcoran said.

Registrar David Tenney (Sid ‘87) said the new system is beneficial for students because it allows them to fill out their evaluations when convenient. Currently, students generally fill out paper evaluations on the last day of classes.

“Students will be able to fill out evaluations at a time that’s good for them,” Tenney said. “They can take their time.”

Provost Eugene Levy said the free-response part of the course evaluations may elicit more thoughtful responses when students have more time to complete the evaluations.

Tenney said the aggregate response rate for course evaluations is about 50 percent, although it is lower for smaller classes.

Levy said he has heard some concerns that the response rate of the evaluations will decrease due to the change in systems since students will not have a set time to fill out the evaluations.

But Levy said he thinks students will still take the evaluations seriously.

“I think students do want to evaluate classes and realize it’s important,” Levy said.

Tenney said many other universities use online course evaluations. He said officials at these schools also initially had concerns that student response rates would decrease, but those concerns proved unfounded.

Havlinek said other schools have instituted incentives or sanctions to encourage or to force students to fill out course evaluations. Some schools enter students who complete the evaluations in random drawings for prizes such as iPods. Other universities fine students or withhold their grades if they do not complete the evaluations. Havlinek said withholding grades would be difficult to implement because Rice could not withhold grades indefinitely.

Havlinek said a decision about incentives will not be made until the response rates from this semester’s pilot program are available.

Levy said the additional advantages of moving to online course evaluations include a more efficient use of university resources — primarily staff time — the ability to process and distribute the results of the evaluations more quickly and the reduced potential for error and lost forms.

“This is a step into the more modern world, and this is something that will be beneficial to everybody,” Levy said.

Tenney said switching to an online course evaluation system will save $10,000-20,000 per semester. Tenney said the Registrar’s Office currently has to generate and distribute about 44,000 pieces of paper for course evaluations.

Havlinek said some evaluation questions have also been reworded so the answer choices are now consistent with the questions. However, the intent of the questions has not been changed, Havlinek said.

“[The change] is just making the quantitative evaluation that you would provide a student consistent with the question that’s being asked,” Havlinek said.

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