ECS continues debate on student evaluations

Carly Simpson

The discussion on Grand Valley State University student evaluations is continuing its slow trek forward.

On Friday, the Executive Committee of the Senate passed a motion to recommend a new evaluation method to the University Academic Senate. The motion suggests that the university adopt a standardized measure that is both reliable and valid.

“In psychology we have no idea who created our evaluation,” psychology professor Brian Lakey said. “We have no idea what it measures. We pretend we are doing this thing with sophistication and we’re not, but we could.”

There is still a lot to figure out and some wonder if the proposal is even feasible. Karen Gipson, chair of the ECS, received several emails from professors at GVSU regarding the issue.

“A main concern is that we are a very diverse campus and we are not able to standardize evaluations and we shouldn’t try,” Gipson said.

Several town hall meetings were held throughout January to allow faculty the chance to provide input. Some discussion revolved around how the evaluations will be administered.

In the past, those given online through Blackboard have had very low response rates. Suggestions to improve those rates ranged from withholding grades to having all evaluations completed in class.

Some faculty recommended that the results of the evaluations be published and made available to students as an alternative to and other websites.

Another discussion included what constitutes good teaching and how students should evaluate their professors. Some departments, such as nursing, focus more on outcome based learning than others.

“We want to be able to tell the community and the institutions that hire our students that we are producing graduates who can meet the requirements of their job positions,” nursing professor Joy Washburn said. “Frankly, (employers) are not going to care that 80 percent of the students thought that the instructor was enthusiastic about teaching the course. They’re going to be concerned that I produced a graduate who can work with others as a member of a team.”

The big question then is what form of evaluation can effectively measure a faculty member.

“My head is spinning,” said Donijo Robbins, professor of public finance. “There are multiple things going on from what questionnaire do we use to process and deciding what role student evaluations play anyway in determining what effective teaching is.”

Though the ECS motion suggests that the university adopt a standardized measure of evaluation, it does not suggest a specific instrument or form to use.

IDEA and SEEQ have been discussed as possible options, though neither one has received widespread support. Some ECS members asked why the discussion is even being held if there isn’t a good instrument available. Others think the university needs to first commit to using a standardized measure.

“If we’re not committed to reliable and valid quantitative measurement, we’re wasting our time,” Lakey said. “To me it’s backwards to pick an instrument first because if we aren’t committed to reliable measurements then we don’t have to bother to pick an instrument to use.”

The debate continued for more than an hour at the meeting and though several things remain undecided, the ECS was able to move forward and voted in favor of presenting the motion to UAS senators during the meeting this Friday.

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