Senate OKs digital teaching evals

HOUGHTON – The Michigan Technological University Senate approved Wednesday a proposal to make teaching evaluations digital and more flexible, but only after discussing the matter at length and introducing and approving several amendments.

“Something needs to be done in how we do teaching evaluations,” said Brett Hamlin, chair of the Senate’s Instructional Policy Committee, to kick off Wednesday’s discussion. “We’re doing paper forms with questions that are inflexible, rigid and haven’t changed in many years and don’t represent necessarily good evaluations (to determine quality teaching).”

The new online evaluations will be divided into four sections, with the “student reflection” and “university” sections remaining standard across all evaluations. The “departmental” and “instructor” sections will incrementally move toward customization through training by the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Much of the discussion Wednesday and at the March 27 meeting when the issue was discussed at length under new business, surrounded university-wide questions.

Currently, Tech has one overarching question (Question 20) used as the primary basis for judging successful teaching. It reads, “Taking everything into account, I consider this instructor to be an excellent teacher.”

The new proposal will break down such an evaluation into six standardized components, assessing whether the instructor was enthusiastic about the subject matter of the course, communicated the course material clearly, provided timely feedback on work, displayed a personal interest in students and their learning, used technology appropriately and engaged students in class and encouraged preparation outside of class (the latter two combined as one number).

Senators discussed at length whether to keep Question 20 for a time as a comparison against the averaged number of the six questions, or eliminate it immediately.

“If we leave Question 20 on the online evaluation, it will continue to be the sole measure of teaching,” said Marika Seigel, member of the Instructional Policy Committee. “I think that’s problematic.”

Senator Tim Scarlett noted the importance of statistical comparison between the two measures, citing the example of somebody on the tenure stream looking to demonstrate improvement. Changing the instrument by which success is measured would make proving that progress challenging.

“I’m on board with the idea, but I think overlapping the data collection is going to be very, very important,” he said.

A vote was held with eight in favor of keeping Question 20 and five against. With it approved, it was then discussed whether to eliminate it at a set period of time, and an amendment to eliminate it after the 2018-19 academic year was unanimously approved.

Another amendment was approved to have the CTL statistically analyze the data and present the results annually to the Senate.

Concerns were raised about confidentiality, issues which the committee expects to continue addressing through the implementation process.

“Digital data is extremely difficult to destroy,” Senator Soner Onder said.

A data release section in the proposal notes the comments will only go to instructors and the data to supervisors.

The implementation schedule includes a tool selection and very limited pilot this summer, with a pilot to include online sections this fall and full implementation in Spring 2014. Customization will be introduced in Summer 2014 and full customization introduced that fall.

All proposals and minutes from Senate meetings can be found at

In other business Wednesday the Senate:

unanimously approved a proposal for the review and reappointment of deans of colleges.

unanimously approved a proposal for the 2014-15 academic calendar.

approved a proposal to clarify course auditing and grades, with Onder expressing the lone opposition.

unanimously approved a proposal for a Minor in Aerospace Engineering.

unanimously approved a class attendance proposal with some minor revisions from when it was introduced as new business.

introduced a proposal to amend Senate Policy 701.1, which would allow a faculty member to have an official appointment in a second department.

introduced a proposal for a blended learning policy to address the intellectual property ownership and responsibility of digitally created material.

heard from Elections Committee Chair Jonathan Riehl that Senate elections are still being conducted and several committees are in need of people.

heard from Institutional Planning Committee Chair George Dewey about a proposal for a new transit system in the works, which would be a collaboration between Tech and the cities of Houghton and Hancock, to help alleviate the ongoing parking concerns.