Course evaluation responses go unread after 48-hour period

There were 282 uncounted responses from last semester due to TRUFA-imposed deadline

In the Winter 2016 rollout of the new course evaluations, 282 of the over 14,000 responses were uncounted because they missed the 48-hour deadline. (Martin McFarlane/The Omega)

During the Winter 2016 course evaluation period, 282 responses went uncounted and unread because they were not received until after a 48-hour deadline requested by TRUFA, according to the student union in its annual report.

This is confirmed by a report released by TRU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching for the Winter 2016 course evaluations, which mentions that 14,130 responses were received for the evaluation period. The response rate was 65 per cent.

Tom Friedman, president of TRUFA, explained that the 48-hour period was requested by TRUFA as a supervisory measure to ensure quality in responses, while also accommodating students who may have been absent from class at the time of the evaluation opening. A memorandum of settlement between the university and the faculty association required evaluations to be supervised in order to avoid issues such as peer pressure in responses, but meant that students absent from class would not have had the opportunity to evaluate their course.

“We were willing to compromise with 48 hours,” Friedman said on allowing evaluations to be open past the class time for responses.

When asked about his opinion of the quality of responses submitted after the 48-hour window, Friedman is skeptical.

“I don’t think the same level of credibility applies,” Friedman said.

Student course evaluation statistics are often used by instructors, along with other measures, as supporting documentation to be used for tenure applications and promotions. A minority of faculty members, according to Friedman, fear that the system focuses too much on students’ evaluations.

“Students have valuable feedback, but only in the experience of that class,” Friedman said, adding that some questions, such as the value of the class to the curriculum, may not be properly answered until later on in a student’s program.

The report also mentions that the 282 uncounted student evaluations only make up two per cent of received responses. In fact, 96 per cent of responses were received within an hour of the evaluation period opening.

TRUSU President Brian Chiduuro said that the introduction of the new course evaluations was a three-year effort and that the Winter 2016 session was a great success.

“We are looking to make it better,” Chiduuro said, adding that the evaluations give students a “meaningful opportunity to provide feedback” and that the union is open to working with stakeholders on the issue.

The report also said that of the 888 surveys prepared, 95 of the surveys were not administered, with 94 per cent of cases being with unknown reasons. Student course evaluations are made mandatory by the senate.

“It’s a concern,” Friedman said on the unadministered surveys, with the report also mentioning that there were some IT issues in the rollout of the evaluations.

Data from the Fall 2016 session of evaluations was not available at the time of publication.