Dordt goes digital with student feedback

Janelle Cammenga- Staff Writer

For years, it has been a common sight to come into class near the end of a semester and be faced with a sheet of bubbles, numbers and comment boxes. Every semester, Dordt students have had the opportunity to give feedback on their classes, professors and other academic concerns. In the past, students have done this through printed sheets, but in the future, it might be done completely online. For now, opinions are divided as to whether or not this transition is a good or bad move.

With the new online forms, results can be processed much faster than before, said Associate Provost Leah Zuidema. With the printed sheets, professors were forced to wait until near the beginning of the following semester to get results. Online responses cut down on the lag time, since those responses can be tallied, organized and recorded as soon as they are received.

Still, not everyone is convinced this change is a good move.

“I have wondered if students take online evaluations as seriously as paper evaluations,” said English professor Joshua Matthews. “Paper evaluations look like a test—you fill in a bubble sheet—whereas online evaluations look like online surveys. And the genre of online surveys is one that I think most internet users do not take very seriously.”

There are downsides to this new system. Students are set to receive an email from IDEAform every day until they fill out the course evaluation.

“It might be hard to tell the difference between that kind of daily email and spam,” Matthews said. “If I receive an email a day from a company, I unsubscribe in a heartbeat.”

Matthews also wonders if these reminders will reflect badly on him, as his name is on the top of every email.

However, the decision to digitize student responses was not Dordt’s alone. IDEA, the company Dordt uses for the evaluations, recently made the choice to switch to an online form. If Dordt wanted to keep the paper evaluations, the college would have to choose to work with a different company.

Online or not, the question should be asked whether these surveys are accomplishing what they set out to do. The forms are intentionally subjective, which means that responses can vary depending on the student’s mood on that particular day.

“If I have to teach two classes back-to-back of the same course,” Matthews said, “the IDEA scores I receive can be wildly different between those two classes…The sometimes wild differences between evaluations of the very same course should tell us that teaching is an art that deals with real people – it’s not a statistic.”

Zuidema countered that the administration takes these differences into account and focuses more on the comment sections of the response forms, understanding that the numerical data is only one snapshot of what goes on in a given classroom. They pay special attention to students’ suggestions for how classrooms can be improved. In order to point students in the direction of helpful comments, Zuidema said that they encourage professors to share examples of comments that have helped them improve.

“Sometimes [a change] is small,” Zuidema said, “but it makes a big difference.”

Whether or not the current system is flawed, Dordt administration continues to strive to make the feedback process easier and more beneficial for everyone involved.

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