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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

End-of-course evaluations transition to online format

Beginning this semester, the College faculty review forms will transition to an online format. The new online forms will be done through SmartEvals, a vendor specializing in online evaluation materials that will email students when it is time to submit their evaluations. Students previously filled out paper end-of-course evaluations.

The online student evaluation form will be identical to the paper version in terms of what questions are present, and the change in format is not expected to have an effect on student bias.

Catherine Renner, associate vice president of analytic support and institutional research at the College, wrote in an email to The Scarlet & Black that she expects that the digital format will result in more helpful evaluations by students.

Grinnell’s transition from paper to online evaluations was necessitated by the previous format becoming increasingly outdated. According to Renner, the paper evaluations that were used up to this point were processed using legacy software that required patches, or programming updates.

Leslie Gregg-Jolly, interim chief diversity officer at the College, said that another benefit of the online evaluations will be increased anonymity. Since the previous evaluation system involved handwritten comments, the ability for students to be anonymous was limited if professors were familiar with their handwriting.

Multiple studies exist that show that racial and gender bias are present in student evaluations. One 2005 study published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences found that rating a professor based on available and friendliness were contingent on Latino professors’ teaching styles, whereas it was less contingent for white professors. A 2011 literature review published in The Journal of Negro Education concluded that, compared to white faculty members, non-white faculty received lower evaluations scores, with Black faculty members receiving the lowest overall, regardless of variables. In addition, a 2014 study published by Innovative Higher Education randomly assigned students in an online course to be shown a traditionally male or traditionally female name, unrelated to the gender of the actual instructor, and found that students tended to rate the male name much higher than the female one.

Gregg-Jolly emphasized that having digital evaluations will allow for greater manipulation of the data collected, and mentioned that possible changes to the questions on the forms are in the future of the evaluation process.

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