PHOTO CREDIT : STONYBROOK.EDU
The transformation from paper-based evaluations to online saw a drop in response rates from students, but the Faculty Center administration has been working to tell people why it is so important to fill course evaluations out. PHOTO CREDIT : STONYBROOK.EDU

As the end of the spring semester approaches, Stony Brook students are constantly bombarded with emails and reminders to fill out their course evaluations. As numbers suggest, it is a low priority for some students.

In spring 2011, Stony Brook University moved from paper-based course evaluations to an online course evaluation system. Response rates initially collapsed from 70 percent to 36 percent in fall of 2011, according to the Division of Information Technology website. In fall 2014, the Faculty Center’s administrators stated the response rate was 46.33 percent.

But Catherine Scott and Lorraine Carroll, the Faculty Center administrators in charge of course evaluations, said they spend ten hours of work per day trying to tell people why is it so important to fill course evaluations out and why are the evaluations so valued.

“We have to make sure that the administration is set up correctly, that the students are in the right courses and that we send out emails at the right time,” Scott said. “There is a lot of work that goes into the evaluations.”

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“We want online course evaluations to be as successful as they can be,” Carroll said. “We work very hard to get the administration part of it right.”

Scott and Carroll said they have fought the battle to get students involved in course evaluations for many years. They also explained that the online method speeds up the entire course evaluation process, but it does not lower staff workload as one would expect.

“It actually became more work,” Scott said. “Before what they used to do with the paper, they would bring it here, students would scan it and then one person would prepare to report. Now it takes two people, well actually three people, because we also have a programmer as well who we work with. It takes a lot of work. We have to look at the different intervals, the different time periods when courses end and we work with the east campus as well.”

Access to the course evaluation data from previous semesters was introduced in the fall of 2014.

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“Students consistently told us they would be more willing to fill out their evaluation if they got subsequent access to the data,” Scott said.

Steven Adelson, the vice president of academic affairs of the Undergraduate Student Government, stated in an email that the current generation has a very short attention span and in order to engage them, things that require completion need to be as brief as possible.

“From talking to students, the new course evaluations are much more appealing because of there being much less open-ended questions,” Adelson said. “Many of the open-ended questions are now choice-based, as they should have been originally. Students feel that the new course evaluations are less of a burden based on perception.”

Some Stony Brook students think faculty does not take the course evaluation seriously and that faculty does not make changes based upon the reviews.

“The evaluations are a waste of time and they make no difference,” Ricardo Anders, a Stony Brook University medical student, said.

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“I don’t believe that they listen, but I still do it and hope that maybe one teacher will,” Gabrielle Dobies, a sophomore business major, said.

Faculty Center administrators who are in charge of the course evaluation process are also trying to encourage more instructors to get involved in the process.

“Our plan is to increase professor’s involvement as much as we’re trying with students,” Scott said.

Roberta Richin, a social entrepreneurship professor at Stony Brook University, has a very different idea on how to boost the response rates.

“If there is a specific time when students complete online evaluations, then the same or more students would complete them as compared with the numbers of students who completed paper evaluations,” Richin said. “I would test this by encouraging students, maybe RAs, to organize a college or a dorm to set aside time, perhaps by incorporating completing the forms into some other activity, like a pizza and game night, a drill, or something else that large numbers of students join.”

Based on his experience as a student member of the University Senate’s Undergraduate Council, Adelson thinks that the faculty seriously takes into consideration all the feedback from course evaluations.

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The Faculty Center is using an incentive system to boost the responses. Students who complete course evaluations can be potentially rewarded with prizes like iPads.

Adelson said he does not think that it is appropriate for a professor to offer any extra credit for completing the course evaluations.

“In my opinion, if we are going to add incentives to course evaluation completion, simply mandating the course evaluations should be the way to go,” Adelson said.

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