In this semester’s course evaluations, there is a new question asking students to evaluate their professors’ transition to online learning. University Senate voted to add the question at its April 20 meeting.
The new prompt reads, “Please comment on your instructor’s communication, assignments, and teaching if your course moved from face-to-face to remote delivery of instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” It is the last question on the form.
Provost Jason Osborne said the question was added to give students a platform to voice their thoughts on this unprecedented transition and give faculty constructive feedback.
“We heard from students pretty loudly that they wanted to have a voice and do course evaluations this year,” Osborne said. “Ideally, faculty will take this feedback and use it to continue developing their skills.”
But several faculty senators objected to the inclusion of this question on the evaluation form.
Rocky Newman, professor of management, said it would be better if the question was sent to students in a separate survey because course evaluations are so important to professors’ careers.
“Nobody [being evaluated by this question] signed up to teach an online course — they were asked to switch over with one day’s notice,” Newman said. “I’m really uncomfortable asking this question on the evaluation form, especially for probationary faculty.”
Harvey Thurmer, associate professor of music, said his colleagues in the music and theatre departments strongly opposed the question because their classes don’t translate well to online courses.
“Our discipline is performance in front of live people, and in a matter of a few days, that learning objective was derailed,” Thurmer said. “To then be evaluated in any way on our success at [online learning] is really disagreeable to those of us in the performing arts.”
Despite these concerns, Osborne said responses to this question will not be used to punish faculty.
“We know everyone’s struggling [with the transition], so we’re not going to use this feedback in a punitive way,” Osborne said. “Nobody is going to get fired or not reappointed if they have bad feedback.”
Additionally, Osborne sent an email to faculty and staff on April 21 stating that faculty can choose to exclude “any or all aspects of the spring 2020 course evaluations” from future evaluative processes without penalty.
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Typically, when faculty apply for promotion or tenure, they submit summaries of their student evaluation data for each year they’ve worked at Miami. This change will allow them to exclude this semester’s data from that report.
Osborne said even though he can’t control how the people reviewing faculty portfolios will perceive the exclusion of this semester’s data if a professor chooses to do so, he doesn’t think faculty will face negative repercussions if they choose to leave this semester out.
“In legal processes, people have the right not to answer questions they don’t feel the need to answer, and you’re not supposed to use that as an indication of guilt,” Osborne said. “So in the same way, we have to hold people harmless for making their own decisions.”
Furthermore, Osborne said he hopes allowing students to evaluate their professors during this transition will give them a way to show appreciation for their efforts in this difficult time.
“I am firmly convinced that there are a lot of students who appreciate what a lot of faculty have done, so we also wanted to have the opportunity for faculty to get feedback on that realm,” Osborne said. “Faculty almost never get positive feedback from students, so it would be nice [for them] to get some appreciation.”