Along with finals, coffee and late night study sessions, student course evaluations are part of the ending of a college semester at PLNU. Powered by the organization IDEA, the evaluations, called Student Rating of Instructions, are delivered anonymously through an online platform, after which the data is compiled and given to institutions in an official report.
Jim Daichendt, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, explained that all professors do course evaluations to some extent. New faculty evaluate every course in a semester, while faculty that have been teaching longer pick certain classes to evaluate. However, every course is evaluated at least once every two years. Schoolwide, the range of response is between 75 to 85 percent among the different colleges.
Professors do not obtain the results of the feedback until the semester has ended and grades have closed. Along with professors, the chairs of departments, the dean of the college, and the provost can see the results of the evaluations. They are used to help make teaching and courses stronger, along with evaluating professors for promotion and tenure.
Dianne Anderson, program director for the graduate program, said the chair of a department is there to help faculty.
“Certainly if there is a professor who is getting really negative comments that would be a cause for concern and the chair would then step in and see what they could do to help,” Anderson said. “And especially identify problems very early on so that we can get them whatever help they need so that things are going well so that they can move on and get tenure.”
Jo Clemmens, the director for the Center of Teaching and Learning, is also available to help faculty make changes in their teaching. She helps faculty customize and weigh the possible 13 objectives in the evaluation, and offers one on one training and evaluations for professors that request it.
“It’s the best system out there that I have ever seen,” Clemmens said. “We offer a lot of help to faculty. We don’t just ignore it and say, ‘Oh well.’ It is to help faculty so that they feel equipped, that they have all the resources they need to be successful.”
Promotion decisions, made by the Rank and Tenure Committee, take into account the evaluations, along with faculty and chair evaluations, and scholarship, faith, and service involvement.
“We use them as part of the promotion process as well so faculty do take them very seriously,” Diachendt said. “They have changed the entire direction of a course based on feedback. It’s not going to be one comment, you are looking for trends and consistency.”
While professors can see which students have filled out an evaluation, they cannot see the evaluations themselves. All information is removed and the results are aggregated. Specific comments, including praise or criticism, made in the comment section at the end of the evaluation are compiled into a list. Diachendt said complaints are handled on a case-by-case basis.
“Sometimes it is something that the chair and professor can talk about,” Diachendt said. “Sometimes it may involve a dean or a provost and the faculty member and chair. As you imagine there is a range as there is with any kind of reviews.”
Lindsey Lupo, co-chair of the department of history and political science, said that, while she receives valuable insight from evaluations, they can be biased.
“Student evaluations are one piece in the larger evaluative process of faculty; they are important but we recognize that they are also imperfect and not always a good indicator of teaching effectiveness (for instance, they tend to mirror biases in society),” Lupo said.