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Local university considers making evaluation data public

By , Reporter  |  Monday, May 12, 2014 1:33 AM

The University of Minnesota’s Faculty Senate passed a proposal last week that brought the school one step closer to mandating the publication of select responses from student-rated course evaluations—a move that St. Thomas might consider, as well.

U of M professors could previously choose whether or not to release certain evaluation items. But if passed by a student vote, this proposal would automatically make some of the information available to students as early as fall 2014.

David Langley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said the participation percentage among professors for the current opt-in program has been in the single digits.

“It really was like a 180 degree turnaround as far as the proposal went,” Langley said. “Going from almost no percentage of having access to now having a situation where faculty would be required to release a set of items to students.”

St. Thomas chair of the Teaching Evaluation Committee Mark Spriggs said for the two years that he has been a committee member, St. Thomas has not considered taking actions to provide students with results of course evaluations. He did, however, express support for the idea.

“I think some basic summary measures should be available to students. I really don’t see any problem with that,” Spriggs said. “I think some objective data out there about, these are the course evaluations, would be helpful for people to make decisions.”

Langley said although students might like to know professor ratings, state law prohibits professor information from being published. Instead, the available information would be focused on specific courses.

“One of the items, for example, is, ‘I would recommend this course to another student.’ So that’s different than an item that would say, ‘I would recommend this instructor to another student,’” Langley said.

Senior Bri Whiting said she believes publishing information from course evaluations could contribute to students’ future success in courses.

“Rating a professor or a course is such a subjective thing, but I think if certain categories were made public that would be helpful because having a certain professor can really determine how successful you are in a course,” Whiting said.

Junior Russell Smith said that although course evaluation results could be helpful when registering for classes, professor information is important.

“That’s a slippery slope though, because a course can depend so much on the teacher,” Smith said. “For example, almost everybody hates accounting, but someone might like it better if a teacher is more enjoyable.”

Spriggs said the U of M’s measures to publish specific information on student evaluations might inspire St. Thomas to consider similar actions.

“Things don’t necessarily happen until some discussion starts to happen,” Spriggs said. “And maybe this discussion over at the University of Minnesota would be the beginning of a discussion at St. Thomas as well.”

No matter what the universities decide, Spriggs said word of mouth will always be a useful tool for students in deciding courses.

“We all know that the informal network of student feedback about courses and instructors is actually quite efficient, shall we say,” Spriggs said. “Students seem to know from each other.”

Molly Sigler can be reached at sigl1215@stthomas.edu.

This story has been revised for clarity from an earlier version.

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