Kent State students fill out course evaluations at the end of every semester.  Students use grades to judge their knowledge of the material, faculty use course evaluations to judge their teaching of the coursework.

Faculty use the evaluations to improve their classroom, but they aren't the only ones who see the data. The evaluations are taken into consideration when determining merit money and tenure promotions Jennifer Marcinkiewicz, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said.

"It goes from the academic unit to the college level and from the college level to the provost level. So it has to pass through multiple levels of review and at each level eyes are on those student evaluations," she said. 

When a professor is going up for tenure, the board and director of the department will view the evaluations to get a sense of the professors' performance in the classroom and their improvement plans. 

"If you have a hundred students and they're all saying something about a particular professor that's something to be noted in the ballot," Marcinkiewicz said. 

Laura Harms, sophomore managerial marketing student, said she doesn't put much effort into the evaluations because she feels they don't get seen. 

"I'm not putting thought into it because it feels like it doesn't matter," she said.

Though students may think faculty doesn't look at the evaluations, they give faculty a different perspective of their class. 

"I think faculty believe what they've put together is good for the students. And we don't know any better until our students tell us," said Pamela Grimm, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship. 

For faculty to get the most out of the course evaluations, students are encouraged to utilize the comment section and focus on the structure of the course rather than specific incidences. 

"The positive comments fuel my fire to keep working toward excellence and the negative ones tell me areas of my class I might want to revisit," Mary Heidler, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship, said. "The more they write, the more we can work with."    

While writing comments is helpful to faculty, students may not have enough time to write out all their thoughts. 

"The professor leaves five minutes at the end of class to do the survey and then you can leave. At that point I don't really care what I'm writing down, I'm just going to do it so I can leave," Harms said.

Some may not feel strongly about a class. Kayla Neumeier, junior integrated health studies major, said she doesn't write much because she doesn't have much to say. 

"I only write down comments if I think the professor is bad," she said, "but I don't have an issue with a lot of my classes, I think they're all fine." 

Students have to think critically when filling out the evaluations, Grimm said. She suggests 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning of class for students to do the surveys. In the evaluation, Grimm said students focus on the way the class was taught and the interactions they've had with the professor. 

"I'm especially interested in things like the structure of my class, communications in and outside of class, and how students respond to my interactions with them in class," Grimm said. 

With the university switching to digital surveys, Marcinkiewicz hopes students will provide richer data. 

"I'm hopeful that students will write more using a mobile device or laptop rather than the long hand with pencil and paper. When we did our pilot, students were writing four times as many words," she said.

Faculty are encouraged to set aside time in class for evaluations, but students will be able to access them anywhere. 

"People will spend more time on it if they can do it after class because when they do it at the end of class, nobody's going to take the time," Harms said. 

Even though the digital survey is new to many professors this year, Heidler teaches a majority of her classes online and has been utilizing the online survey since 2014.

"My participation rate was really low when I started," Heidler said, "but then I gave out extra credit and my participation rate sent me up to about 84 percent."

It can be hard for students to understand the importance of the surveys, but Heidler suggests offering extra credit to those who complete them to incentivize a higher participation rate.

"It might be low initially…  but if the responsibility is on the faculty to explain the importance of these evaluations and incentives, then I think it will be better," Heidler said.

Grimm wants students to know their thoughts matter.

"The students at Kent State University have the power and the ability to shape student instruction moving forward through the use of the course evaluations," Grimm said. 

Contact Katie Thompson at kthomp73@kent.edu.

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