PDC: Progress made to expand DEI in course evals
Since 2020, the Student Government Association (SGA) has been working with faculty to change the course evaluations that students complete at the end of each semester. These surveys are used by professors to determine adjustments to improve the student experience, as well as in areas surrounding faculty members’ contract renewal and promotions.
The proposal of adding questions centered around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) was first brought up in the fall of 2020 to ensure inclusive and welcoming classrooms.
SGA Vice President of Academic Affairs Celeste Hunter-Pines says that the addition of these questions will fulfill the call for DEI improvements on campus. She says, “It allows students to give more of a response about how they feel in the classroom, how it pertains to how they're learning and relationships with their professors.”
Psychology professor Dr. Sarahbeth Golden has been working on the project since its proposal. She says, “I can understand students and particularly SGA’s frustration if they're frustrated about, like ‘Where is this?’ because I share that. I'm like, ‘Yeah, where is it?’ And I also get why it hasn't happened yet, but I get it and I also think that it needs to be updated.”
“Faculty governance has a procedure and process that must be followed in order to make changes to important matters that impact faculty,” said Chair of the Professional Development Committee (PDC) Amy Maynard. “All members have input and give feedback. From there, the PDC meets again to discuss, the Executive Committee gives input, and then it returns to faculty.”
Golden is on the committee revising the evaluation and says, “An evaluation is meant to get a sense of the learning environment for students. You don't learn very well if it's like a super anxious, hostile environment. And I don't think my colleagues create those types of environments, but I do know that there's been some experiences that students have had that have not been good. And how are we going to do better if we don't know what those experiences are so that we can make adjustments?”
In the spring of 2021 the faculty assembly voted to form a task force to look at peer reviewed research on the best practices in evaluating student learning experiences in a way that minimizes bias against minority instructors.
They spoke to faculty and SGA for staff and student perspective about what did and didn’t work with the evaluations. With that information, the task force put together a report with recommendations that they revise the evaluation.
The task force then assigned the PDC, which Golden is on, to revise the evaluation. The course evaluation is typically overseen by the Professional Affairs Committee, however the task force decided that this project was better suited to be taken over by the PDC.
“The faculty initiated a desire for an evaluation that more effectively gave us information about the courses we teach,” said Maynard.
The first step in revising it was to add one pilot item to the already existing evaluation. Golden says this item was “A scale item that evaluates, or attempts to evaluate, students' experience of the classroom as a welcoming environment, regardless of the student's background or identity.”
SGA President Michael Woo says, “I think making sure that our classrooms are inclusive and building that inclusive classroom experience for all the academic experiences that students have is crucial.”
This item was included on the fall and spring 2021 evaluations. While that was running, the Professional Development Committee continued to work on a new evaluation. According to Maynard, this new iteration is “not merely ‘new added questions’ but is in fact, a completely new evaluation, containing approximately six open response questions that ask student feedback on specific aspects of the course.”
“The overall structure of the evaluation has been revised,” said Maynard. “The new evaluation will allow students to have more input into specific aspects of the course itself through the open responses, which I think supports the experience of all students in our classes.”
There was a soft rollout of this new evaluation on a volunteer basis. In the fall of 2022, 25 professors volunteered to send their students the new survey in place of the current one, which had 15 questions instead of the usual 10.
While the current survey is made up entirely of scale questions, the new version has multiple open comment sections for students to explain their answers, and questions specifically related to DEI and the value of the course material and assignments.
“By and large, the feedback was positive from people, and faculty liked it,” Golden said. “And again, these are the people who said, ‘sure, I'll volunteer.’ So it's a biased sample.”
According to Maynard, the PDC has been revising the evaluation based on faculty feedback. “We had a survey of the 25 faculty who volunteered to complete the pilot, we held two focus groups, and will have a second rollout of the pilot in Spring 2023.”
“We've shared the new version with the full faculty and they've looked at it and there's, you know, it's not perfect. I don't think it's perfect. I think it's a lot better than the last one, but not everybody agrees with that,” Golden said.
The next step in replacing the current evaluation with the revised one is holding a faculty vote. If approved, Golden hopes it will be implemented in the fall of 2023. If it is rejected, she isn’t sure what the future of the evaluation will look like. Golden believes the current evaluation may remain in place, or be replaced by the first piloted survey.
While the new evaluation is not yet set in stone, Maynard said “the faculty has voted yes to a specific question regarding the role of faculty in being welcoming to students of all backgrounds and identities. That question has been included in the evaluation as a pilot since fall 2021 and will continue to be included in the current course evaluation, as we continue moving forward with the pilot.”
“We are moving forward on all fronts,” said Maynard. “This process is more complex than I personally anticipated. I am confident, however, that we will emerge with a stronger evaluation that gives faculty feedback on all aspects of their courses and allows students to feel confident that their voices are being heard.” Maynard said next fall, the PDC will request that the whole faculty participate in the pilot.