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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Online evaluations ready for use

After a successful pilot run during Summer Session II, the new Academic Course Evaluation (ACE) program will begin to replace in-class written evaluations during the 2013-14 academic year.

A combination of 12 lectures, discussions and labs were chosen to participate in the ACE online trial this past summer. In a survey taken by 86 students enrolled in one of these 12 courses, 94 percent rated the online evaluations as either “the same, better or much better” than its paper counterpart.

According to Jeff de Ropp, committee co-chair and department manager of the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department, one of the advantages of using ACE is increased staff efficiency. Another is the streamlining of faculty assessment and promotion since evaluation of merit is already handled online.

By collecting survey content online, ACE reduces the time spent manually distributing, collecting and analyzing evaluations.

It can automatically calculate averages and analyze the data in a variety of ways. ACE can even export the data in Excel format, allowing for personalized analysis of the information by departmental faculty and staff.

ACE also minimizes human error when copying answers and comments to an electronic file format.

“Eliminating the paper will mean that each student’s voice is more directly heard,” said Victoria Cross, academic coordinator and lecturer in the Department of Psychology, in an email interview. “There won’t be any chance that your bubbled answer wasn’t bubbled clearly enough.”

Key to ACE’s positive response from students is the evaluation’s shift from an in-class setting to an at-home setting.

“Professors sometimes skip over material and tell us we have to learn it at home in order to make time for evaluations. So I think online evaluations would be easier,” said second-year biomedical engineering major Johanna Mattram.

However, making the switch from paper evaluations to the online format is at the discretion of course instructors. “It’s a completely voluntary system. We can’t mandate it,” said de Ropp.

The general body of research comparing online evaluations to written ones shows that scores remain consistent but student participation decreases when using online systems.

To compensate, automated email reminders were sent out daily to students during the Summer Session II trial. The reminders began the day evaluations opened and continued until the day students completed the survey.

In the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department this summer, online response rates were comparable to those found when using paper evaluations. However, the department sent out reminders in addition to those automatically generated by the system.

Professors are allowed to set a time limit for their surveys and adjust how long they are available online. They can even use ACE to set their own evaluative scales. Similar to paper evaluations, the content and number of survey questions are completely in the hands of individual departments and instructors.

This is unlike online evaluations developed by other UC’s. Some have a central committee that dictates the same questions for use on all surveys.

Developed by programmers under the Administrative Application Development Initiative at UC Davis, ACE’s software works by “talking” to databases that hold information regarding current course rosters.

Using these systems, it restricts survey access to only those students registered for a course. Students then access the survey using their Kerberos ID. All survey results, however, are completely anonymous.

“When a student submits anything, all identifying information is stripped away. The data is stored without any ID,” de Ropp said.

In fact, ACE’s Oversight Committee was created partly to create privacy measures and design the specifications of the software. The Oversight Committee consists of eight faculty, eight staff and four student members.

Faculty privacy is also protected; instructors can view only their results and not those of any other faculty. Also, only staff granted access to ACE by their department chair are allowed to use the system.

Like traditional written evaluations, faculty will not be able to view survey results until after final grades have been submitted.

“ACE was created to maintain the freedom of paper evaluations,” de Ropp said.

He hopes students, faculty and staff will see this as ACE begins to take the place of more written evaluations this quarter.

 

ATRIN TOUSSI can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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