From print to digital: Online course evaluations becoming new standard

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The University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) has been slowly transitioning from print to digital course evaluations across all colleges. This semester, the College of Human Sciences and Humanities (HSH), will be the final school to begin implementing digital course evaluations for face-to-face classes.

Though the transition will not be mandatory until the spring 2019 semester, HSH faculty are presently being encouraged to use online course evaluations.

“We will not fully be electronic until spring semester,” said Deborah Griffin, director of operations in HSH and lecturer of writing. “The switch to electronic end-of-course evaluations isn’t new. In the College of Human Sciences and Humanities, we’ve held onto the paper and pencil traditional survey longer than any of the other colleges. The other three colleges — College of Business, College of Education, and College of Science and Engineering — all use electronically-delivered surveys and have for many years.

Although students in the College of Business’ face-to-face and hybrid classes take the evaluations on paper, after, those evaluations are submitted they are scanned and stored digitally.

“College of Business uses online evaluations in fully online courses and use paper evaluations for face-to-face and hybrid courses,” said Lisa Gossett, associate professor of environmental management, business. “The process has not changed recently. Sometime after the semester ends, we get a printout of the ‘summary’ results for each course.”

In the College of Computer Science and Engineering, the majority of the evaluations are completed online. The Associate Dean’s Office for the College of Education said the evaluations were online with the exception of one course that they are working to implement into that system.

The switch will allow faculty the options of either providing time in class to allow students to complete evaluations using smartphones or computers, if available, or asking students to complete the evaluation in Blackboard outside of class during an allotted time frame.

“Our University Computing and Technology (UCT) department sets the window for the evaluation period each semester,” Griffin said. “This fall, that window runs from Saturday, Nov. 24 to Saturday, Dec. 15 for students enrolled in the regular academic session (15-week term).  There are other windows for students who are enrolled in eight week-first and eight week-second terms, too.”

Some professors prefer to allow students to complete evaluations outside of class as it allows more time for students to think about their responses. However, Griffin points out that the percentage of students completing course evaluations is higher if the course evaluation is conducted during class time.

“Obviously, giving students time to complete the surveys during class encourages better return rates; however, encouraging them to take a few minutes at their leisure outside of class may encourage more detailed written commentary,” Griffin said. “It is true that fully online classes experience a lower return rate on end-of-course evaluations. Since I teach online, I’ve experienced this problem.”

Stuart Larson, department chair of communication and studio arts and associate professor of graphic design, said the challenges may be in getting students to appreciate the importance of course evaluations and getting faculty comfortable with them being completed online.

“I actually think the challenge may be in making the faculty comfortable with online evaluation,” Larson said. “When my class goes on break, almost everyone pulls out a phone – myself included. I don’t think it will take long for students to get used to filling out the evaluations online. The larger issue may be getting fully online students to fill out evaluations. Online classes tend to have lower participation, and that is a disservice to the faculty. Some universities provide extra credit for filling them out and others hold the release of projects or grades until the evaluation is filled out.”

The online course evaluation system will be supported on the UHCL Blackboard website. Students will receive teacher reminders that enrolled in courses can be evaluated online.

“The best advice that I can provide is start early and always keep in touch with the instructor so he or she is aware of any problems that the student is having with Blackboard or the evaluations,” said Michael Livingston, executive director of UCT.

Madison Garner, business major, said she thinks this switch to online evaluations should have happened a long time ago.

“In my opinion, it’s easier to explain how you actually feel when you are not around a classroom full of people,” Garner said.

Kaitlin Dorset, business major, questioned if the Blackboard website was the best pick for completing evaluations. She stated that Blackboard is not always user-friendly and does not work well on smartphones.

“I think it’s smart to have online course evaluations, don’t get me wrong,” Dorset said. “I just wish they were off the UHCL website or something. Blackboard doesn’t pull up the full screen on an iPhone. If the teachers are wanting the evaluations done in class, the class is going to have to have computers in it.”

Livingston said Blackboard is required to access evaluations to ensure that each student is taken to their course-specific evaluation.

“However, the evaluations are written outside of Blackboard and are written to be compatible with mobile devices as much as possible,” Livingston said. “In the event that a problem occurs with a smartphone it, always a good troubleshooting step to restart the phone to see if the problem goes away. If the problem still exists, the student can always report a problem by sending email to supportcenter@uhcl.edu .”

For students without a smartphone or computer, Steven Silva, student worker in UCT, said there are multiple ways to do the evaluation if you do not have a smart device or laptop.

“Students can go into the library and do it there, or check out a laptop from one of the open labs or support center,” Silva said.

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