War on paper commences

? SGA’s Academic Affairs Committee and the Faculty Senate are pushing a campus-wide initiative toward online course evaluations. SGA requested a move from paper to online evaluations in order to decrease impact on the environment and for efficiency, according to the Motion on Online Evaluations.             If approved, online evaluations could be implemented as early as Fall 2012.             The information provided by the evaluations would still be restricted to those who can currently access them and would be employed in the same ways they are now used. Online course evaluations are already in effect in the School of Business Administration, College of Engineering and Mathematics and the College of Medicine, and are in the planning stages in the College of Nursing. The evaluations are posted on Blackboard or similar software and are written by each college, but President of the Faculty Senate Julie Roberts said neither of these options would be suitable for all the colleges. “That’s why a vendor would be used if it happens at UVM,” Roberts said. According to the Educational and Research Technologies Committee, the cost of handling, printing and processing the evaluations is estimated at $67,000 per year.             Brigham Young University calculated that paper-based evaluations cost $1.09 per entry, while an electronic interface would be about $0.47, including the cost of developing a system to process the information. But Brian Reed, associate provost for curricular affairs, said some lingering concerns emerged at the Faculty Senate meeting March 12. These included the potential decrease in response rate to online evaluations and how faculty may be adversely affected in performance reviews for promotion, Reed said. Roberts said online evaluations are important to faculty, which is why professors tend to encourage as many students as possible to participate.             “Because they are used for reappointment, promotion, tenure and salary increases, their validity is crucial,” Roberts said.             One proposal to boost response rates was to withhold grades until a student completed evaluations, Reed said.             “This is feasible because it is possible to identify which students have or have not completed the evaluation while still keeping the responses anonymous,” he said.             Roberts suggested that another approach might be to release grades to students who have filled out their evaluations as they are entered, so that students would be rewarded for doing them promptly rather than punished for not completing them. All other grades would be released at the deadline for grade submission.             By using incentives and monitoring the process to make sure it is working well, Roberts said they would avoid risk of upsetting faculty who depend on these evaluations for both feedback and assessment.             Reed mentioned how it was important to embrace assessment in order to promote continuous improvements. “Many other universities have moved to online course evaluations with good success and I think UVM can do the same,” he said. A valuable feedback mechanism that allows faculty to grow and to improve their courses and lessons is important, Reed said.             “When considered in this light, I trust students will want to complete their course evaluations whether on paper or online,” he said. SGA Sen. and sophomore Riker Pasterkiewicz said online evaluations would positively affect students by allowing them to fill out course evaluations at their leisure and in a more private environment.             “It would also be beneficial to both the students and the instructor because it would not take away valuable class time that is otherwise used to fill out the evaluations,” Pasterkiewicz said.             Proponents for online interface also suggest paper evaluations are inefficient and the staff time used to process them can be costly, he said.             Completing evaluations online would facilitate the process of streamlining the information, Pasterkiewicz said. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the Faculty Senate Meeting April 9 at 4 p.m. in the Waterman Memorial Lounge to voice their opinions about the online evaluations.