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Long-awaited changes to Student Opinion Survey could be implemented by Fall 2018

Although it may be an “aggressive target,” students could see changes to the student opinion surveys in fall 2018,  according to Kathy Wilson, associate vice-president academic and learning environment.

The content and structure of the student opinion surveys that are filled out at the end of each course have been points of critique for some time now—and things the university have been working on changing for a number of years.

The surveys’ importance, according to Wilson, originates from them being the only mandated assessments of faculty by students.

“It’s not an assessment of competence in teaching, it’s students perceptions of their experience in one course—but it’s taken very seriously in the tenure and promotion process,” Wilson said.

Wilson is part of the joint-Senate Teaching Excellence and Policy committee—which, according to their 2007 report “Redesigning UNB Opinion Survey: A New Framework for the Future,” has been looking into problems concerning the student opinion survey since 2001.

Redesigning the student opinion survey was brought up again in 2013, when The Brunswickan covered a story highlighting the various town halls and surveys conducted in an effort to effectively revise the system.

“In 2013, there was a question, I think, about the reliability of each question to actually assess what we’re using it to assess,” said Wilson. “And also because they were in place for a long time and teaching practices change over time, and we wanted it to be moving along with those changes.”

At the time of the 2013 article’s release, it was expected that the new surveys would be implemented by the following academic year—an expectation that was not met.

“I think that the process took longer than expected because the committee wanted to ensure that there was broad consultation, and also the strike in 2014 disrupted workflow,” said Wilson.

However, it seems like a new student opinion survey is within sight. The 2016-2017 academic year included several more consultation efforts and approval of the committee’s plans for redesign by the Senate in March 2017—both of which were outlined in their 2017 “Student Opinion Survey Redesign” report.

According to Wilson, the student opinion survey is being changed in three main ways: the questions that are asked, the structure it appears in and the way that it is administered.

The new student opinion survey will feature three groups of questions. The first group has already been approved by Senate and features nine university-wide “core” questions—questions Wilson says have to do with the preparedness, effectiveness and quality of feedback experienced in the course.

Included in the nine questions are two open-ended questions that students can provide a written response to, something that Wilson says wasn’t an option before. These questions are: “What aspect of the instructor’s teaching should stay the same?” and “What aspect of the instructor’s teaching do you think should be changed?”.

Four questions are in the second group, which will be faculty/department specific and selected by each faculty and department.

“Let’s say you’re changing your curriculum and there’s some specific questions you want to look at; you’ve been working on different pedagogy or different teaching approaches, so you want to focus on those to see how you’re doing there,” said Wilson.

The final group of questions will be entirely course-related and feature six questions chosen by the instructor.

Both the second and third groups will be selected from a bank of questions that has yet to be fully determined, but Wilson said they’ve widely-tested questions that are in use at institutions like the University of Toronto, Queen’s, Concordia as well as schools in the United States.

The final change being made to the surveys is the way they’re administered; Wilson says they’re planning on moving to an entirely online system, which will be different from when they made a similar attempt to move the survey online a few years ago. However, the committee has yet to choose a vendor for the online system.

With the Senate’s approval, the remaining work required for the shift will be presented in updates. An assessment of the changes will be conducted two years after their implementation to examine what is and isn’t working.

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