University getting low response to faculty reviews

With the blooming of flowers and smell of fresh cut grass comes another annual tradition at Missouri Southern: faculty reviews. The time of year when members of our University ask us to grade them has arrived once again. 

In a bygone era, students were given a survey and asked to grade their professors on a handwritten sheet of paper during class time.  Some still remember this stroll down memory lane. However, most current students are familiar with the new system whereby they receive an email and notification on Blackboard. Despite this newfound opportunity to complete this occasionally tedious task on their own time, administrators are still running into a problem: few students are doing the reviews. 

According to Dr. Paula Carson, provost and vice president for academic affairs, the University is only getting a 25 percent response rate with the current Blackboard faculty review system. An official response rate of at least 58 percent is needed to get more reliable results and usable information.  

The university uses the evaluations for each professor’s annual review as well as tenure and promotion decisions.   

“It’s about making sure there’s a good match between a faculty member and a particular course,” said Carson. “When we tenure a professor we want to make sure that we feel confident they will be effective for a lifetime at their position. Tenure essentially binds a faculty member to an institution for an entire career.”

According to Carson, the annual review isn’t the only thing the student feedback can be used for. They can determine professors’ effectiveness in several areas including how well they can handle larger classes. 

“Someone has to be super dynamic and really well informed and adept at altering his or her teaching style if they want to teach in larger section classes as opposed to smaller ones,” she said. “We use this data to determine a match between a faculty member’s style and approach to teaching and the courses they are assigned too.”

Carson, who personally reads reviews that students submit, is finding that more and more students are utilizing the site, which University officials can’t use for their purposes, instead of the official faculty reviews.

“More voices are needed,” she said. “Students need to understand that these reports are impactful, and they do matter; it is not a waste of time. I will read every comment that every student makes about every class. If there are too few voices students are cheating themselves and not taking advantage of everything they can do to impact their University.”

Students worried about their personal anonymity has also been a cause of low response rates in the past. However, Josephine Welsh, director of Institutional Effectiveness, says Southern takes precautions to protect student’s identities. 

Data from the reviews is gathered by a third party and analyzed to ensure students privacy. 

“We carefully go through it and look at several things including the class size the person is in,” she said. “If the class is too small we won’t use the review in order to protect the student’s anonymity; we want students to feel comfortable when they submit these reviews.”

According to Welsh, the more data provided by students, the better their education will be in the long run. Evaluations are largely predictive and increasingly valuable. 

Faculty evaluations will be available for students beginning April 18 and will be open for two weeks.