Students’ opinions unveiled: Introduction

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By Eyeopener staff

Ryerson students answer multiple-choice surveys about their courses every semester.

The forms disappear into sealed envelopes. Technicians in the basement of Jorgenson Hall collect these packages, open them and feed their contents into a computer scanner.

Results typically filter up to the school’s administrators and faculty—but students haven’t seen them for the past five years.

That means the people who pay tuition haven’t been told whether their classmates considered their program too easy or too hard, whether it was crippled by ineffective instructors or whether it was simply worthless—until today.

The Eyeopener has obtained and ranked Instructor Course Evaluation (ICE) results from last fall and winter semesters.

The numbers reveal winners and losers. The survey results rewarded departments such as politics, whose classes students thought were worthwhile. They prompted administrators of some poorly rated programs such as interior design to hold meetings about how to improve. And in other programs that received bad reviews, administrators dismissed the surveys as being too vague and allowing only limited responses.

The stats do, however, provide a picture of students’ opinions about Ryerson. In the fall 1999 term, results dated last Jan. 15 show more than 31,000 surveys were filled out. This represents about 60 per cent of the forms distributed in every classroom. The response rate was similar for the winter 2000 survey results dated May 7, which show 37,000 forms were completed.

Review committees have also been using the results more and more to judge whether professors deserve tenure or salary increases.

“They used to play just an informational role,” said John Morgan, chief negotiator for the Ryerson Faculty Association. “But there’s been a gradual change over the last five or ten years.”

Partly because of the survey’s importance, Morgan said, in 1994 the RFA wrote a clause into its collective agreement to ensure results wouldn’t be published. RFA president Michael Doucet said the clause wasn’t changed in the latest round of contract talks in 1998.

“These are private documents between employer and employee,” Morgan said.

The last time The Eyeopener obtained and published program and department rankings was in 1995.

Ryerson administrators have refused to release even average scores for programs, such as those published today, because of the RFA contract.

Morgan said the contract’s privacy clause was intended to prevent professors from being singled out. But he refused to say whether it also meant banning the release of program averages.

“I’d have to take legal advice before answering that question,” Morgan said.

Unlike Ryerson, many other schools publish the findings of their student surveys.

Results of such surveys are being published at York University for the first time year. York’s data, like Ryerson’s, is updated every semester and reviewed when professors are asking for raises or tenure.

At the University of Calgary, survey results have been published on a Web site for the past five years. “The profs hate it,” said Mark Hoekstra, the student government’s v.p. academic. The results seriously affect opinion about instructors, Hoekstra said.

A similar system serves students at the University of Western Ontario, where results are published on-line. The student government publishes a “teaching honour roll” each year, with names of instructors who score 90 per cent or more on their evaluations. The students also hope to link course descriptions to on-line survey results.

Students at the University of Toronto can see evaluation results each year in the form of an “anti-calendar.” The survey was pioneered by the Arts and Science Students Union (ASSU), but now gets assistance from the university’s administration.

Ryerson has also made tentative steps in recent years toward sharing survey results with students. An agreement reached in 1998 says administration and faculty will co-operate with RyeSAC to develop new surveys. The project would have “the broad purpose of providing public information about student opinions in respect of the courses and programs,” the agreement states.

Ryerson’s budget papers for 2000/2001 also promise to establish new surveys “and improve our capacity to integrate this knowledge into the academic planning and review process.”

But the 1998 agreement’s target date for new surveys—June 30—passed quietly this summer, said RyeSAC’s v.p. education Odelia Bay. She’s still waiting to be contacted about the project.

“I was waiting for that call,” Bay said. “We’re quite prepared to talk about it.”

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