By Rachel Gobep
During the fall 2017 semester, Youngstown State University began using SmartEvals, a third-party company, for students to evaluate their professors at the end of the course.
This process is completely anonymous and there is no way for faculty members or the administration to know who said what.
According to Jennifer Pintar, associate provost at YSU, two professors received excellent return rates of 97 percent last semester.
Guy Harrison, instructor in telecommunication studies, and Jim Benedict, assistant professor in physical therapy, received the high return rates.
The two professors provided some insight to help other faculty at YSU to get high response rates from their students.
Harrison said he gives students time to complete their evaluations in class.
“I reserve about 15 to 20 minutes and leave the room, so students can complete the evaluations and not feel like I’m judging what they might be typing,” he said.
Harrison said he checks the system online on his phone to see how many students have completed it, but noted the system only shows instructors the number of students not who has done it.
“There are always a couple of students who don’t do it, or take their time logging in, so sometimes I have to peek my head in and encourage them to continue,” he said. “But after that, almost all the students complete the evaluations.”
“First, they teach me what I can work on as an instructor and offer suggestions for changes I can make to my classes to make them more meaningful and/or enjoyable for my students. I learn which assignments students enjoy, which ones they find less meaningful and how to improve overall student learning in my classes,” he said.
Harrison said through his evaluations he has learned that he sometimes goes through PowerPoint slides too quickly.
“Secondly, as many people know, teaching evaluations are part of a faculty member’s tenure profile at YSU. Thus, evaluations give students a voice and a say as to which instructors get to stay at the university. I would think that alone would be enough motivation to complete the evaluations,” he said.
Benedict said the Department of Physical Therapy at YSU stresses professionalism and he believes that is a reason why his students completed the evaluations.
“Constructive criticism is something we frequently have to do sometimes with our patients. I try to relate it back to what they’re going to encounter when they’re done being students and out in the professional world treating patients,” he said.
Benedict also said he tries to build a relationship with his students and has the same group of 30 students in multiple classes.
“[Our relationship] is built on honesty and that I want the criticism. It is to their benefit and mine. For me to improve my teaching, for them to have a better experience as a student,” he said.
Benedict said he tries to look at student evaluations and ask himself what he did to elicit a certain comment. He also said it helps faculty to be better teachers.
“If I had a lot of students giving me the same feedback, it affirms that something was a good technique,” he said.
Benedict said he would give students weekly reminders, encouraging them to fill out the course evaluation.
Harrison said the best way to ensure that students participate in the evaluations is to dedicate time in class for them to do it.
“It is sometimes difficult to get students to read or do homework assignments. Likewise, I think it’s unrealistic to expect students to do something where there is no instant gratification,” he said. “So, I would say, give students time in class and be up front and honest about what the evaluations mean to you as an instructor.”
Pintar said the evaluations help faculty know what they are doing well and what they need to work on.
She said it also helps chairpersons realize where their faculty members have strengths.
“We have very good faculty members here at YSU, aligning them with their strengths makes them even better,” Pintar said.
According to Article 14.3 pg. 37 of the YSU Ohio Education Association agreement, “In cases where student response rate falls below 33 percent for a given class, such evaluations shall not be used for purposes of evaluating the faculty member for promotion and/or tenure.”
Pintar said the administration is hoping that students participate in the evaluations because that allows them to work with, promote and tenure good faculty.
She also said that it is important for students to evaluate faculty that they believe are good and not just those that they think of negatively.