Reminder: Online SRTEs Available
It is the time in the semester when work piles up and the last thing anyone wants to do is spend 15 minutes filling out professor evaluation forms. Whether you elect to evaluate your instructors or not, remember that these forms represent the most significant opportunity for students to voice their concerns and express their satisfaction with a course.
The SRTE’s represent an evaluation method designed at Penn State and implemented in 1985, aimed at collating feedback from students about courses and the professors who instruct them. The SRTE’s are administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Every semester, students are encouraged to take the SRTE forms for every class, yet the anonymous nature and opportunity for honest feedback often create challenges.
In a conversation with the Vice Provost for Academic affairs, Dr. Blannie Bowen, Onward State Editor Dave Cole was able to iron out a few of the misconceptions and uncertainties about the SRTE forms we enc0unter as semesters near their conclusion. The following questions attempt to address some of these ambiguities.
OS:What kind of impact do SRTE forms specifically have on professors?
Bowen:”There are two things:
1) The forms influence promotion to full and associate professorship, and impact tenure.
2) The scores are used as faculty evaluations typically by the department heads. The comments are not technically part of the SRTE, but are summarized and used later in evaluation.”
OS: Many students claim that filling in an entire SRTE form with all 0’s or all 7’s will invalidate the form and it will be discarded. Does this occur?
Bowen: “Absolutely not. No forms are thrown out, and there is no way of controlling the forms as the process is all electronic.”
OS: Just how anonymous are the SRTE forms, and can professors have access to the results before final grades are given?
Bowen: “Professors never have access to individual scores, only given access to a summary of scores, which includes the mean scores, and a total number of completed forms.” Deans and department heads are subject to the same evaluation forms by faculty.
OS: The SRTE website answers this question vaguely; can professors offer incentives for participation?
Bowen: “We don’t encourage faculty to offer incentives. Additionally, there are no ways to offer incentives since professors have no way to see who completes the forms.” Now that the forms are online, faculty don’t even have the opportunity to reward students for showing up to class on the day of the SRTE.
OS: How has the transition to online SRTE forms affected participation?
Bowen: “Participation has been a little lower, but not as low as you might think.” Dr. Bowen directed me to a 2010 report by the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs addressing the participation of forms, addressed two possible concerns about transitioning SRTE forms online.
1) A possible decrease in response rates which could undermine confidence in the results obtained; and, 2) a possible bias in the outcome due to the change in the population of the students providing responses. In addressing these concerns, the report found that; ” Examination of the results obtained thus far via the online SRTE Project suggests that while the second concern may not be warranted, the first concern seems justified. Both the decrease in response rates and absolute rate itself are problematic.
OS: Do professors believe that the system is an accurate way to gauge performance?
Bowen: “Most proffessors feel that the system is accurate. There are multiple ways that performance is gauged, and SRTE’s are just one part.” Dr. Bowen emphasized the importance of written comments and other evaluation methods as numbers alone may not tell the whole story.
OS:What feedback have you heard from faculty about outside evaluation websites such as ratemyprofessor.com?
Bowen: “Most believe that the ratings on these sites fall under two categories; students who love the professor and those who hate the professor, without much middle ground. Whereas on the SRTE results there tends to be a much more diverse and scattered data set.”
OS: Would you consider making the SRTE results available to students who are registering for classes?
Bowen: “This would not be a good idea because the decisions impact promotion, tenure consideration, salary increases, and is a personal decision that is a private matter. The idea has been discussed, but there hasn’t been much movement.”
As you enter the final weeks of the semester and are asked to submit your SRTE scores, remember that they represent a key evaluative measure in ensuring the quality of Penn State University’s faculty, so if you do decide to take them, remember to be honest and fair.