Course Evaluations: Online vs Face-to-Face

On Sunday, I completed by tenure binder for year four of five on the tenure track! Hooray! Yes, it felt good. Even handed that two inch binder in. And yes, it is all hard copy. How exciting is that?

The section I saved for last was 2H: Demonstrating Teacher Efficacy. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? In other terms, it's pretty much where we take the university-wide course evaluation results, analyze them, and then discuss them. Sadly, there are an array of issues with this approach and using this specific data. I pointed this out in my introduction to the section:

The Problem with WOU’s Online Course Evaluation System
Before I discuss the “data driven” findings, I want to make it clear that these findings are troubled and problematic at best for a variety of reasons.

First, response rates are incredibly low for some courses. I’ve indicated that and ignored the individual results for those classes; however, that data still impacts my overall review by term. 

Second, as Tunks and Hibberts (2013) indicate, evaluations for online instruction should not be the same as evaluations for face-to-face teaching—and adding a few items that related just to online instruction is not enough. While Berk (2013) does not agree with Tunks and Hibberts (2013) that online courses should have a different evaluation that recognizes the differences, challenges, and unique teaching and learning components for working and teaching online, Berk does indicate that that existing instruments for face-to-face evaluations need to be modified in order to address the unique characteristics of online courses and online learning. Currently, we don’t do this at WOU.

Third, as Young and Duncan (2014) indicate in their study, multiple sections (eleven) of the same courses taught face-to-face were consistently given better evaluations by students than online courses. Lowenthal, Bauer, and Chen (2015) have similar results in their analysis of seven years of student evaluations: students rate online courses lower than face-to-face. 

I have included copies of the articles mentioned should you be interested in reviewing some of the literature.

That's what I wrote, and I stand by it. But that's not the only issue I see.

Next issue: the course evaluations are only offered with Likert-style responses. That's right, no qualitative comments are possible. Naturally, there may be good reasons for this. For example, one snarky comment could derail or influence readers and help them overlook an abundance of strong results. I get that, and I appreciate that. However, as faculty, not having anything other than general Likert-scale responses is, well, relatively useless for my teaching or improving my teaching.

Naturally, if I'm scored very low or very high in an area, that will show strength or weakness. But that's a very general area that is scored, like "use of time during class." If you are scored poorly, what does that mean? Without the specific student feedback and comments, you might actually undo what is working well and reinforce less useful practices. General categories and feedback are of little actual use for improving our teaching.

This may also demonstrate, though, my complete misunderstanding of the teaching evaluations. Instead of just being scored, I want to actually improve. If I'm going to improve, I need decent information to do that. Currently, Likert-scale scores don't do that. Then again, maybe those course evaluations are not meant to help me improve my teaching.