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Campus news briefing: course evaluations and pool renovations

At this week’s USG senate meeting, Patricia Aceves, director of the Faculty Center,  presented revisions to online course evaluations. According to Aceves, a faculty member has been developing new questions for the evaluations over the last year and a half based on focus groups composed of students.

“We got a lot of good feedback from the students,”Aceves said.

Part of the process to make the changes included looking at the course evaluation questions asked by other schools within the Association of American Universities. Aceves said, “Rather than having to reinvent the wheel, we…pulled almost all of the questions we could gather from other AAU’s and found out what they asked their students.”

The first recommendation was to change the number of standard university-wide questions for courses from 10 to four. Those questions currently ask students to rate courses based on a scale from “excellent” to “poor” and are likely to change to a grading scale of A through F.

Aceves explained that students are “really familiar with the grading system” and added that, “It’s difficult sometimes to say it was an ‘excellent’ class, and ‘excellent’ to me might be different from what ‘excellent’ is to you.” She asked the senate for feedback and no opposing ideas were raised.

In regard to the questions that have a seven point scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree,” Aceves said, “It’s really hard to make those fine discriminations and when the rating scale is too long people are less likely to figure it out because you have to think hard.” She added that “it really doesn’t make that big of a deal. We really want to know just a core general sense of what you liked or didn’t like about the class.”

According to Aceves, another question intended for inclusion in the revised evaluations surrounds the effectiveness of the class instructor in teaching the subject matter. Along with this would be two open-ended questions asking what students valued about the course and how the course could be improved. These changes are intended to be made in hopes of taking out the redundancy of the current questions.

It was found from other AAU institutions that faculty were evaluated in comparison to their peers across campus.

“Right now in the 10-scale questions that you see, our faculty are evaluated for promotion and tenure based on the averages of those ten questions,” Aceves explained.

The revision would instead break that up into two questions, and the deans or the chairs would look at the scores of those two questions in making personnel decisions, comparing them in their department, college or school, and across the university.

“The promotion and tenure committees were just fine with that,” Aceves said.

In discussing comments on courses, Aceves said that the written feedback is “the most valuable part to a professor, so one of the reasons why they didn’t mind getting rid of the ten [questions] and reducing it to two really scaled scores was because it’s your comments that they want the most.”

Also presented at this meeting was the Stony Brook University Pool Renovation Resolution. USG President Anna Lubitz, who drafted the resolution, explained that the reason there is no funding right now to renovate is because capital is going toward critical maintenance needs.

Lubitz said, “SUNY cut all campus budgets dramatically, so this is what we’re left with to deal.” She described it as a “resolution pressing the university, as well as SUNY Student Assembly, and the State Assembly to give us more funding to…get renovations started.”

Lubitz added, “As of the approval, it’ll take three years to renovate, so the longer we wait for an approval from the state and the university, the longer it’ll take to renovate and I would rather see the renovation take place sooner than later for students.”

Lubitz asked the senate to help get signatures for a petition on the resolution, adding that it would push the administration to vote in favor of the students.

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