Fairfield Implementing New Professor Evaluation Forms

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The professor gives you the two forms, you fill them out with the little golf pencils, and you get to leave class a few minutes early.

Most students are familiar with the current professor evaluation system at Fairfield.  However, the university is working on implementing a new system  for next fall that will go more in depth and yield more useful results.

The new system, called the Individual Development and Educational Assessment, or IDEA, is currently used at over 200 schools across the country.  The new forms ask more in depth questions in order to better evaluate teaching outcomes and whether professors are meeting educational goals.

Dr. William Abbott of the History department, who is spearheading the implementation committee, says the new forms will be useful in helping professors understand where they are succeeding and where they need improvement.  “What they do is, they not only tell you how well you’ve done, but they break down the various scores and then they tell you which classroom techniques that you should be using to improve student performance in the specific goals,” he said.

The forms are waiting to be fully implemented, as there are still some questions, such as whether students should complete them in the classroom or online.  Abbott said that once all the final details are worked out, the forms should be ready to be implemented for use next fall.

Abbott said that professors teaching courses that are primarily taken to fulfill Core requirements, such as the natural sciences, often do not score as highly on evaluations because students normally do not care about the courses as much.  The new form will help correct this by offering comparative data from over 200 schools, so professors will be able to tell how they compare to other professors not only at Fairfield, but to other professors in their field across the country.

Dr. Lawrence Miners, an economics professor and Director of the Center for Academic Excellence says that the new form is long overdue. “There has been long dissatisfaction with the form that is currently used,” he said.  “It does not do a very good job of evaluating teaching or learning outcomes by students.  Faculty don’t get a lot of useful information for how they might want to change their teaching.”

The new forms are seen as a positive step by the faculty.  Dr. David McFadden, past chair of the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee and has been involved in every aspect of curriculum development during his twenty years at Fairfield, said, “It’s a much better form.  There’s more detailed questions, it’s more specific to disciplines, you can compare across the country, not just at Fairfield University, because other schools are using it.”

McFadden said that the new forms emphasize that, while some schools may shift their focus from teaching to research and prestige, Fairfield remains devoted to undergraduate education. “We’ve never stood down to anybody in terms of our emphasis on teaching,” he said.

Darryl Brackeen ’10, who sat on the IDEA From Sub-committee as a FUSA representative, said that he believes they should be completed online.  “In many cases students are asked to fill these forms out in class which could be intimidating for some, though most teachers leave the classroom,” he said.

The school’s top academic official agreed.  “If students did course evaluations online they could actually sit back and think a bit more and write more thoughtful comments,” said Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.  He added, “Faculty and deans look at those forms very carefully.  Students have a lot of authority.”

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