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Evaluations, making changes

The end of each course signals course evaluations, and so students complete them and scribble their comments and rank their professors on a scale from one to five in multiple categories. But then they leave, and likely they will not find out whether or not their evaluations were taken to heart.

Lucky for senior Daniel Park, one of his professors distributes mid-semester evaluations so that Park and his classmates are able to witness the effectiveness.

“One of my professors usually does a mid-semester course evaluation so he can improve the teaching in the middle of the semester,” Park said. “He reads through every evaluation and really listens to what the student says.”

But other students are not as lucky, and do not have the proof of effectiveness that Park has had.

“There’s some professors who hand them out, and you never hear from them again,” sophomore Daniel Hansen said.

However, according to deans and professors from multiple schools at Drake, the evaluations are a serious matter and are used in a myriad of ways.

“It allows the students to give feedback to the professors about what worked and what didn’t work,” said Kathleen Richardson, director and associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. “The course evaluations are also looked at by the administration and are part of the tenure and promotion

process and annual review of the faculty.”

Since Drake also has an accredited journalism program, dictated by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, the evaluations must ensure that the course correlates with the ACEJMC’s standards.

“We have to prove that our students are learning these things,” Richardson said. “Some of the standards are built into the questions on the evaluations.”

This year the SJMC evaluations will be slightly altered to meet those standards, one of which is the expectation that students are learning digital communication. Otherwise, evaluation templates are generally not majorly changed for several years — except for the fact that professors are able to add their own questions at the conclusion of the template for their personal use.

According to Dean and professor in the Drake Law School, Allan Vestal, the evaluation has not changed since he’s been at Drake, since 2009.

“Having consistency in the form means we can compare them from year to year,” he said. “When we use them for tenure evaluations, we can compare them to other professors.”

The evaluation process is different for most schools. SJMC has primarily hard copy evaluations while the College of Business and Public Administration’s evaluations are generally processed through scanners.

But regardless of method, all have the same purposes.

Through all of the administration’s use of the evaluations in determining tenure, determining whether the standards are met for outside organizations such as ACEJMC, or determining promotions, all determine one major thing: whether or not a professor’s teaching has been effective. And frankly, that’s all the students care about.

“This is a tried and true method,” said Charles Edwards, dean of both the CBPA and SJMC. “It’s not a popularity contest (for professors). It’s really used by the individual and by the college to measure effect and if we’re teaching what we say we’re teaching.”

Most faculty members agreed that the most important section of a student’s evaluation is the comments section. It says more than the one to five rankings and provides sincere advice and suggestions from students.

“As a faculty member myself, I always tell the students that the written comments are the most valuable,” said Richardson. “I think students should feel confident that the feedback they’re giving through the course evaluations are taken very seriously.”

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