Student evaluations of teaching are now being used in our universities to collect information for diverse and increasing purposes. What was initially instigated as a tool to provide staff with feedback on their teaching, is now also being used to collect information for personnel and management decisions.
This semester Murdoch University has introduced a new system of student surveys which separates the surveys of units from that of teaching. While this is by no means unique, in fact differentiating between units and teaching is done in many institutions' student survey systems, Murdoch has attempted to give a more formative slant to the surveys by running the teaching ones mid-semester. Staff are provided with results before the end of the teaching period and are strongly encouraged to respond to the students. Previous research at Murdoch has shown that while students are happy to complete questionnaires on teaching and units, they become disenchanted with the process if given no evidence that their views are taken into account. This paper looks at how this new system has worked and at staff and student views on the process.
In the last ten years an increased focus on good teaching in Australian universities has, in many instances, resulted in the increase in use of student surveys of teaching results, and in changes in their purposes. In 1994 a mandatory student survey system, where unit and teaching were reviewed on a three year cycle, was introduced at Murdoch University. Its original purposes were to guide academic staff development and curriculum improvement in individual units. Over the years several changes have occurred in the uses for the data collected, eg as one of the university's performance indicators, for promotions, etc. By 1998 these changes in the use of the information collected, together with the development of clearer standards for units and teaching by the university and the move to annual surveys of units, highlighted a new scenario for student surveys.
Questions on the unit surveys were constructed with reference to the 'Key Quality Standards for Units', which were adopted by Murdoch at the same time, those included on the teaching survey relate to the criteria for assessing items of evidence of teaching that promotes effective learning as identified in Table 2 of the Guidelines for the Presentation of a Teaching Portfolio (Murdoch University, 1998).
As with the introduction of the original mandatory system there were some concerns amongst staff that this increase in the number of surveys, particularly as two separate questionnaires would now be undertaken in a number of units, would result in respondent fatigue amongst students. While the literature on student evaluations of teaching is immense - more than 1,300 articles were counted in 1990 (Cashin, 1990), studies of student views are meagre. Studies which have been undertaken have shown that students rate these surveys positively, feel they are important and have realistic expectations of their teachers' willingness and ability to change their teaching (Costin, Greenough et al. 1971; Miron and Segal 1986; Marlin 1987; Dwinell and Higbee 1993). Previous research undertaken at Murdoch indicates that while students are keen to provide their views, it is essential that they have some evidence that these views are taken into account (Ballantyne, 1997). With these issues in mind the new survey system was organised so that unit surveys would be undertaken in the last two weeks of the semester, with the teaching surveys being run mid-semester. This offered an opportunity to give a more formative slant to the teaching surveys with the results being returned to staff by week 10 of a thirteen teaching week semester, allowing them time to respond to student concerns. Student feedback which is collected mid-semester has been shown to be useful for the improvement of teaching (McKeachie, 1994)
'Did you feel that you could make only positive comments because they were being returned to the staff member before the final assessment period'1556 students completed a new teaching survey, representing 49 per cent of the enrolled students in these classes. Only 1017 (65%) students, however, answered this extra question, with 87 per cent indicating that this early return did not restrict them to positive comments.
Students were also provided with an opportunity to comment. Only a minority of students made a comment on the new procedure. The dominant themes of the comments were -
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|Please cite as: Ballantyne, C. (1999). Showing students you're listening: Changes to the student survey system at Murdoch. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/ballantyne.html|