Evaluation forms improve classes, professors when used

By Shannon Smith

At the end of every semester, professors and teaching assistants (TAs) across campus distribute Instructor and Course Evaluation System (ICES) forms to their classes. Though these forms can offer valuable feedback to the University, teachers and students do not always utilize them.

Leanna Armstrong, freshman in LAS, said she was not able to fill out an evaluation form in two of her classes at the end of the 2004 fall semester because teachers did not distribute them. She said she would have liked to be given the chance to voice her opinion.

“The classes where I haven’t had an ICES form for are the ones where I had a problem with the teacher or the class,” Armstrong said. “I think those classes need to be improved.”

Chris Migotsky, associate head in Measurement and Evaluation (M&E;) at the University, said while ICES forms are not officially required by the University, they are highly encouraged.

“It’s really a departmental policy,” Migotsky said. “TAs almost always distribute them, and for faculty, if you are tenure-track, it’s pretty much required to have systematic evaluations of their teaching.”

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    Joe Grant, associate professor of music at the University, said there is more pressure on the younger faculty because they are often the ones who are untenured and trying to improve.

    “Some professors and associate professors don’t do them as frequently because they may feel they are at the top of their game,” Grant said.

    However, Grant said these ICES forms are often used by executive committees and directors to determine salaries, raises and full professor positions.

    Migotsky said the administration primarily sees these evaluation forms because they use them for such decision-making purposes. He said that ICES forms also give feedback to the instructors on ways to improve their class – this being the primary purpose of the evaluations.

    “Instructors get a summary report (of the evaluations), and if they go through that report and look at the open-ended comments, there’s a lot of good information to get started,” Migotsky said.

    He said he hopes faculty members talk about their reports to someone in the teaching center or in their department to help interpret what is being said by the students.

    “It’s very hard for people to separate their ego from what the students are saying,” Migotsky said. “They need to be able to step back from that and look at them objectively. Often times it takes an outsider to help them see that.”

    Migotsky said professors and TAs have told him that the information in the forms was useful to their class. The ICES forms give feedback about several issues, including the way the class is taught, the content that is offered in the course and the manner in which it is delivered.

    Migotsky said the final purpose of the ICES forms is to give students some information about which faculty they might want to choose for the upcoming semester.

    He said the M&E; division compiles “An Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by their Students” every semester, based on the returned ICES forms for each teacher. This list includes professors and TAs that ranked in the top 30 percent of their “elective-mixed-required” course group on the evaluation forms.

    Grant was listed in the top 10 percent of teachers in “An Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by their Students” for the 2004 fall semester for his work in Music 262, 346 and 348.

    Grant said he was very pleased to be evaluated so highly. However, he said people need to remember to keep a balanced approach when reviewing the results of the ICES forms.

    “It’s easy to get high marks on these when you are teaching an elective course because students choose to take those courses,” Grant said. “I think it’s much more difficult to achieve high marks on required courses. You can’t just say bad ICES, bad teacher, or good ICES, good teacher.”

    Migotsky said these are just some of the reasons the list is called “incomplete.” He said those who do ICES and score very high might not be listed because they choose not to release the information. A minimum of five students in each class must fill out the ICES form in order for teachers to qualify.

    “An Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by their Students” is posted on the M&E; division Web site. Even so, some students are not aware that the list exists.

    “I didn’t know about the list,” Armstrong said. “You are told all the time not to take a certain professor when you take this class. People really do listen to that and seeing a list would help.”

    Armstrong said it would be a good idea to link the list on the UIUC Web site under registration, so students are able to take a quick glance before registering for classes.

    Migotsky said he advises both students and teachers to take the evaluation forms seriously, because they are how the University improves.

    “Students should realize it’s a really serious task in front of them, and they have an obligation to be responsible and truthful, whether good or bad,” Migotsky said. “Faculty should take them seriously too. Students are the ones that are experiencing the entire course.”