By Drew Halfnight
For the first time in 20 years, Ryerson’s antiquated Faculty Course Survey (FCS) will be revamped.
Starting this November, students will complete the evaluations online, any time within a 14-day window, in the comfort of their own homes.
Also for the first time, students will be able to supplement their numerical ratings with 250 words of commentary about their class and teacher.
The changes stem from recommendations made last winter by a joint faculty-administration committee created to make the evaluation process more useful.
“The biggest challenge with the online version will be getting students to sit down and log in and do the thing,” said Vice Provost Faculty Affairs Michael Dewson, who is responsible for FCS evaluations.
Currently the average university-wide response rate is at about 60 per cent.
After a similar move at McGill University, student response rates dropped to 48 per cent from 70.
Dewson said Ryerson will hold a random draw of five iPod Nanos per semester as an incentive to students who wouldn’t otherwise bother to complete the survey.
The committee found that the old survey statements (e.g. “overall, the instructor was effective”) were redundant, “stale” and generally deficient. None of the original 11 survey statements survived the revision unchanged.
Among the 14 new survey statements are “the class meets as scheduled and on time” and “the way this course is taught helps me to learn.”
“I don’t know that they’re perfect, but they’re cleaned up a bit,” said Dave Mason, head of the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) and a member of the review committee. Students will also see up to 16 additional items chosen by faculty from a pre-determined list.
The committee mentioned “anecdotal reports of wide variability” in the way the surveys are administered.
The current policy merely “suggests” that instructors leave the room during the evaluation process, though many students report feeling pressured by hovering profs.
The committee said the online format will ensure that students can fill out surveys in private.
The review, which took place without the benefit of student input, will not change how FCS evaluations are used.
Ryerson students do not get to see survey results for individual instructors, which the university considers confidential.
The survey results are only seen when a teacher applies for promotion or tenure.
The new survey was ratified before the Ryerson Senate in May, and will be used this school year on a trial basis. The evaluation format will be reviewed again in summer 2008 when the RFA renews its collective agreement.