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New faculty evaluations allow for clearer student commentary

Starting this spring, students at Eastern will be filling out new teacher evaluation forms that the administration believes will help evaluate teachers more effectively.

The new form will be longer, taking approximately 15-20 minutes to complete, and it will include a whole new scale of questions.

“We take course evaluations very seriously,” Tom Dahlstrom, director of institutional research, said. “We want to make sure that we are doing things right.”

Specifically, the new evaluations are made up of 47 questions as opposed to the 20 questions that undergraduate students are used to seeing. Each question also has its own scale of responses. The supplemental questions concerning respect for students and relating coursework to the Christian faith will remain the same.

The new system of evaluations will cost the university an estimated $12,000, a jump of $4,500 from the cost of the IDEA system. The university believes that the new system is worth the price, since teacher evaluations are used to decide whether teachers return or deserve promotion.

In spring 2005, the Faculty Personnel Committee put together a subcommittee to evaluate the system that was then in place, called the IDEA system.

The committee saw weaknesses in the IDEA system, primarily with the scale of answers for certain questions, but also with the form’s overall usefulness.

“It’s easy to misinterpret [the IDEA form],” psychology professor David Tyson, one of the six members of the subcommittee, said. Tyson commented that the new teacher evaluations will allow the university to be more particular about the areas where students have rated faculty high or low.

The new system for teacher evaluations is administered by the company Educational Testing Service, which also administers the GRE, among other tests.

According to Eastern’s Senate Ad-hoc Committee’s report in November, the ETS system asks considerably more “nuts and bolts” teaching effectiveness questions.

Among the points identified by the committee were instructor’s preparation, instructor’s use of class time, instructor’s use of examples and clarity of exam questions.

One question that the committee used to show the weaknesses of the IDEA form was, “Overall, I rate this instructor an excellent teacher.”

The committee pointed out the ineffectiveness of the question in determining the excellence of faculty and courses. More specifically, the range of possible answers is not direct, with the response of “1” meaning “definitely false” and “5” meaning “definitely true.”

The university considered many different possibilities before making a decision about the direction to take in teacher and course evaluations. The possibility of doing online evaluations was explored, as well as doing fewer evaluations for teachers with seniority.

The committee believes that overall, the ETS system will prove to be more valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of its faculty and courses.

“The faculty and staff are still committed to getting the students’ input on faculty and course evaluations,” associate professor of Biblical studies Dwight Peterson said.

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