A Brief History of UVA’s Online Course Evaluations
Origins of the Current Course Evaluation System
At that time, 2 key things were occurring in parallel:
- The UVA Student Council had been lobbying for a course evaluation system that would give the students access to the data in order to make registration decisions. Many years ago, Student Council had a paper-based “Course Selection Guide” that was very popular. The student newspaper had developed a course evaluations system similar to ratemyprofessor.com that was subsequently replaced by a different student-developed system, thecourseforum.com. Neither of these had adequate response rates to make them very useful, and that’s why Student Council wanted access to the main evaluation data.
- Several University schools and departments had been using a commercial service for online course evaluations, and the vendor of this system decided to cease operations. Thus, these schools/departments were looking for an alternative provider for these services.
Revamping the Course Evaluation System: Goals
After bringing together these motivating factors, the current system was designed to address several needs:
- the need for departments/schools/Provost to gather course evaluation data for the purposes of tenure, promotion, and merit awards;
- the desire for instructors to ask evaluation questions for their own professional development; and
- the desire of Student Council to produce a Course Selection Guide based on course evaluation data.
The development of the system was jointly funded by what was then called ITC (now ITS) and the participating University schools and departments. ITC agreed to absorb all ongoing maintenance and operation of the system.
Scope creep was kept to a minimum because the other schools and departments agreed that they would have to fund the development of any additional new features.
Developing the Course Evaluation System
Developing the First Two Portions of the Course Eval System
The first part of the system (the evaluation-taking part) was developed beginning in the fall of 2002 and put into production for the Spring 2003 courses.
The second part of the system (the results portion) was developed during the spring/summer of 2003 and put into production in August 2003.
Course Evaluations Advisory Committee Recommendations
After being lobbied by an ad hoc faculty group and Student Council, the Provost convened a course evaluation advisory committee, consisting of representatives from the faculty and Student Council.
The committee began meeting in Spring 2004 and issued its report that May. Highlights included:
- All course evaluations should include 7 University-wide questions identified by the committee (in addition to questions from the schools, departments, and instructors). Several of the questions were primarily authored by students.
- The results from 6 of the 7 University-wide questions would be used to form the basis of a student Course Selection Guide.
- A course must achieve a response rate of at least 65% in order for its results to appear in the Course Selection Guide. (This was specified because the faculty wanted high response rates and felt that the students should fill out the evaluations if they wanted access to the data.)
The Provost adopted these recommendations, and the 7 University-wide questions were first used for the Fall 2004 evaluations.
Since then, the 7 questions have provided consistent course evaluation data over time, while being flexible enough to capture most feedback, and short enough to not be overwhelming.
Developing the Course Selection Guide
During Fall 2004, the development of the third and final part of the current course evaluation system was begun, the Course Selection Guide.
This development was partially funded by money which had been allocated to Student Council, with the remainder of the development funded by (what was then known as) ITC.
The CSG leveraged the existing navigation of the University’s student information system (at that time, known as “ISIS”) by simply embedding links to it from that system. It was put into production in time for registration in Spring 2005.
Based on concerns from faculty, the Provost’s Course Evaluations Advisory Committee recommended several additional changes to the CSG, e.g., the exclusion of courses taught by graduate students and changes to the display. Some of these changes were implemented during Spring 2006; others were put into production by Fall 2006.
The online course evaluations system has been running ever since as is. Now, navigation to the Course Selection Guide is via Evaluations links that are embedded in the current Student Information System.