Tech senators mull teaching evaluations

HOUGHTON – Many factors go into determining the quality of a teacher, and Michigan Technological University Senators debated Wednesday how to accurately measure those factors while considering a new online teaching and course evaluation model.

“The current paper intensive method for course evaluation is cumbersome, slow, and provides extremely limited feedback and opportunities for analysis,” reads the new proposal, which was brought up under new business Wednesday and will likely be voted on at the April 10 Senate meeting.

The teacher evaluation forms currently used are identical across all departments, take more than a month to process by the Center for Teaching and Learning, cost the university an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 to complete and create confidentiality issues with students returning the forms to departments, which provide it to the CTL, which process the forms and delivers them to the registrar’s office.

The biggest problem discussed Wednesday is the limited way current evaluations are used to judge professors, largely relying on one vague question, notoriously known among the Tech teaching ranks as “Question 20.”

The question simply asks students to respond in degree to the the following statement: “Taking everything into account, I consider this instructor to be an excellent teacher.”

“Question 20 has been used and is currently used by many administrators as the sole measurement from the results that are presented on someone’s teaching ability,” said Brett Hamlin, senior lecturer in Engineering Fundamentals and chair of the Instructional Policy Committee, which introduced the proposal. “We felt that having someone just say this person is a good teacher or not doesn’t really characterize what good teaching is.”

Several options were discussed, but through research the committee is recommending dividing the one overall Question 20 into six dimensions, which could be averaged out to come up with one number.

“The six elements we have there, when we went out and looked at the literature for what people consider effective teaching, those six things came up again and again and again,” said Michael Meyer, the director for the CTL. “If you really want to suggest to people how to improve, really what we should do is in these six areas say you’re doing well or you could do better. The point of the survey is to help instructors improve, and that was the goal of breaking that question into six.”

The six proposed areas ask students whether the instructor:

was enthusiastic about the subject matter of the course.

communicated the course material clearly.

engaged students by encouraging participation in class, and encouraging preparation, reflection or other activities outside of class.

provided timely feedback on work.

displayed a personal interest in students and their learning.

used technology appropriately.

The online survey would also offer standard essay questions, and the proposal also includes suggestions for departmental default questions and instructor optional questions.

One of the biggest concerns regarding moving the surveys online instead of in the classroom was response rate, but Senators discussed possible incentives to complete the survey, such as delaying the release of final grades until the survey is completed.

“Students will fill out the forms if they think their input is valued,” Hamlin said. “While we do expect initial results to be lower, there’s plenty of research out there that shows that the comments they give are significantly more in-depth, more detailed.”

There was also discussion about making results public, but some Senators expressed concern about teaching quality becoming a “popularity contest” or a “beauty pageant.” Others wanted to see student perceptions matched up with student achievement, and discussions are ongoing about linking the two.

The proposed implementation schedule would allow fall 2013 classes to use paper forms since they are already purchased, with a pilot test being conducted. Full implementation, if approved by the Senate, would take place in spring 2014, expanded to full customization by fall 2014.

The full proposal and video/minutes of the Senate meeting can be found at

In other business Wednesday, the Senate:

unanimously approved a proposal for a spin-off from “B.S. in Management” to a “B.S. in Management with a Concentration in Entrepreneurship,” though Senator Mike Mullins expressed concern about the large number of proposals coming out of the School of Business despite declining enrollment. He is concerned about high tuition rates compared to other universities, but Tech Provost Max Seel said discussions about tuition are ongoing, and the change coming this fall to plateau tuition is enough change for now.

introduced a proposal for review and reappointment of deans of colleges.

introduced a proposal for the 2014-15 academic calendar and 2015-16 provisional calendar.

introduced a proposal to amend and clarify the policy concerning course auditing.

introduced a proposal for a minor in Aerospace Engineering.

introduced a class attendance proposal regarding the process of evaluating and approving student absences.

set a special meeting for a presentation about benefits by Tech Vice President for Administration Ellen Horsch and Director of Benefits Renee Hiller. The meeting will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the ME-EM Building. Horsch was scheduled to be present Wednesday, but she had to travel downstate.