Growing trend: A new way of looking at courses gains traction

Course evaluation: To centralize, or to decentralize: That is the question.

Not long ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) was looking for a reliable online course evaluation solution for implementation across their 10 schools/units and their close to 30,000 students.

They faced a number of challenges.

Much of the data entry process was manual and performed by school administrators. They wanted the ability to automate much of the process. Some schools were requesting more sophisticated analytics and a more streamlined questionnaire development process. Due to its highly decentralized environment, each level in the university was trying to “push” their own agenda and set requirements that better fit their specific needs.

Performance issues with their existing course evaluation solution were another challenge that accelerated the need for a new solution. UNC was at an important junction: “How do we simplify our process while keeping the evaluation autonomy within the schools/units?” questioned Dr. Block, program compliance coordinator at the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. The lack of a dependable course assessment tool posed an array of issues for the university’s administration in terms of evaluating the performance of faculty, class, and students for enhancing the learning and teaching experience.

Hunting for the Right Assessment Solution

Once UNC decided to change their solution, they formed a small committee that previewed different course evaluation solutions from six different vendors. They ranked each product in relation to the main features list that was compiled based on user feedback and common problems they observed with their current solution.

From those six products, they narrowed the list down to three. Then, they invited the top three companies to send representatives to the campus for a day-long presentation in front of users. Each representative provided a broad overview for all users, had one-on-one meetings with some of the more complex users, and held a session on the reporting capabilities of their products.

After each session the unit reps were asked to fill out an online evaluation. After reviewing the extensive feedback, the committee made a formal recommendation.

Implementation Success

The decentralized comprehensive liberal arts and sciences research university struggled to find a “perfect” solution that would help overcome all of the challenges being faced by its different schools. Within each unit, there are administrators who organize and run the course evaluation process. They manage faculty, students and deans. They specify which questions should be asked, what courses are evaluated and when these evaluations take place – total autonomy for each individual unit.

The role of the central Institutional Research and Assessment department is to be the first line of support for the units and to manage the process during implementation.

The switch was a huge undertaking as UNC identified internal data issues and spent valuable time cleansing their data before shifting to the new solution. The decentralized implementation across the campus was well accepted. UNC attributes the success of their implementation to three main factors:

  1. The pre-implementation buy-in they received from the schools during the screening process;
  2. The smooth integration with PeopeSoft and their Single-Sign-On (SSO) that made it easy for students to access their evaluations; and
  3. The expertise and patience of the eXplorance team.

“I was very impressed with the quality of the folks working for eXplorance. They have been very helpful and are quick to deal with issues when they arise,” adds Dr. Block.

eSchool Media Contributors