Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Tales Inspired by Campus Information Technology

Remember the time that I had n students in my class and n + 1 or n + 2 students filled out the course evaluation online? The office that runs the online course evaluations promised that it was as isolated glitch.

In Fall 2008 this happened again -- in someone else's class. Several people are skeptical that this is just an innocent mistake. There are suspicions that the online course evaluation system has a fundamental flaw. (Yet another case of "if you turned this in as an assignment, it wouldn't get a very good grade.")

What had started as an email to the department describing the possibility that the system is seriously flawed is now slowly morphing into a debate (via "reply all") about the role of the course evaluations.

My own opinion being that an institution, such as ours, that employs world-class social scientists could do a much better job with the course evaluations. Of course before that could happen, people would have to do some serious thinking about the questions that they want to answer and then design instruments for answering those questions -- instead of using a uselessly bland survey and a shotgun approach. (Example: The students are asked to rate the amount of work assigned on a likert scale that ranges from very poor to outstanding. If your students say that the amount of work assigned is "very poor," should you be assigning more work or less work? You can guess that the students want to do less work, but can you be sure from that question?)