Online course evaluations promote sustainability

Students in select classes have the chance to skip traditional course evaluations this spring and instead offer feedback about professors in a new online program put together by the Academic Council.

The new evaluations, if successful, would help Elon University reduce its carbon footprint and cut back on the time it takes to process evaluations. Each fall semester the university uses 29,000 printed student evaluation forms, 15,000 sheets of paper and 1,450 envelopes to complete required course evaluations.

Additionally, an estimated 18,000 pieces of paper are used for optional spring evaluations.

It then takes anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks to process. Students in participating classes received an e-mail inviting them to take part, and they have until May 19 at 5 p.m. to complete the evaluations. The online survey will be identical to its paper counterpart. 

“It makes sense to utilize technology to do this, save some paper, and make it easier on students and data collectors,” said Randy Piland, communications lecturer and participating faculty member. “I plan on making time for students to take it on exam day.”

This initiative began with an Academic Affairs priority to develop and pilot a web-based student evaluation of teaching plan.

“I hope people fill them out,” said junior Kevin Kline, academic council student representative. “It is very important to our professors, and it is helpful to students in the end. We have great professors here, but how can they get better without a little helpful criticism?” 

Not all professors have the luxury of holding class in a computer lab, which provides an easy opportunity for students to fill out the evaluations. Instead, most instructors rely on students to file the evaluations in their own time, but there are no penalties for not doing so.

The administration plans to evaluate the success of the program at the end of the semester. If the student response rate is significantly lower than in previous semesters, Elon will continue to employ paper course evaluations.

If the online evaluations prove to be successful, expect to see them again next spring. The office of academic affairs said that Elon would gradually transition to electronic evaluations once they are proven to be accurate and fair.

– Story by Megan Kirkpatrick ’09