Faculty concern over the impending release of course evaluation data has caused University Provost Martha Pollack to reconsider the current timeline for such a release.

During her comments at Monday’s SACUA meeting, Pollack said she would be willing to reconsider the release date, pending a vote at the Senate Assembly meeting later this month.

“If the Senate Assembly votes no, I am happy to slow it down, but I generally need this group to meet with (Central Student Government) and (Rackham Student Government) and talk with them,” Pollack said. “This all came up because the students asked for it at least three years ago now.”

Pollack has formed a committee to create a new tool, in place of the current course evaluation, to better meet the needs of faculty and students. She invited SACUA to appoint a member to the committee, which will also include members from student government and evaluation experts at the University.

At a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting last month, Engineering Prof. James Holloway, the vice provost for global and engaged education, announced that course evaluation data could be published as soon as this semester.

The decision provoked pushback from faculty governance, which criticized the administration for constructing a plan without extensive faculty consultation.

“It has not been debated at SACUA and it has not been debated at Senate Assembly, and so we feel like there hasn’t been enough broad consultation because this is something that affects everyone, faculty and students,” said Comparative Literature Prof. Silke-Maria Weineck, SACUA’s chair, at the time.

Weineck said another committee with faculty input will need to be formed to determine the best way to release the data — an issue that she noted is separate from what type of instrument will be used.

“We actually need a committee that looks closely as the way it’s released,” Weineck said. “That is just as important as having a committee that looks at the questions themselves.”

Faculty concern over the release of course evaluation data resulted in the LSA Student Government withdrawing their request for the data. Biology Prof. John Lehman, a SACUA member, predicted Central Student Government would soon do the same. He said students are willing to wait for the data if it means developing a more helpful instrument.

“Talking to the student governance leaders, they’re saying none of the students really care about this as much as some faculty are really passionately against it,” Lehman said. “I asked the students in my oceanography class how important this was to them and they said, ‘Not at all.’ They said they had other ways to find out what they want to know about these courses. I mean we’re talking about upper-division students.”

Business Prof. Dave Wright, a SACUA member, said if the committee fails to create a more effective instrument for collecting course evaluation data, the University should opt not to release data at all.

“If the body of experts comes to the conclusion that there is no reliable, valid way to measure this, then we shouldn’t have it at all,” he said. “At some point you have to reach the conclusion, is the signal to noise ratio worth it? Is it positive? We know there’s noise, we know there may even be bias. But the question is, is it better than no information at all?”

SACUA members also expressed concern over the administration’s decision to switch to Canvas beginning in the fall 2016 semester.

Pollack and Laura Patterson, associate vice president and chief information officer, announced the decision in an e-mail to students, faculty and staff last month.

Weineck said there is concern among faculty about making the transition that quickly.

“I think one of the potential problems coming down the pipeline is Canvas,” Weineck said. “It seems that some problems have come up that didn’t come up in the pilot and they concern the migration of course size from CTools to Canvas.”

In response, Pollack said the transition date would not be delayed. She encouraged the board to forward their questions and concerns to Patterson.

Wright questioned the tradeoffs associated with delaying the switch.

“My question would be what is the real cost of pushing it back a year?” he asked. “And what happens if I don’t transition to Canvas — in other words, how enforceable is this?”

Pharmacy Prof. David Smith, a SACUA member, said the faculty has no choice but to transition next fall.

“It’s pretty enforceable, you’ve got to convert over,” Smith said. “You don’t have a choice, you’ve got to learn it and give them feedback on things you need that they don’t have that will help you do a better job.”

To aid their transition, faculty can consult online resources, the University’s Information and Technology Services Center and Canvas support, available through phone, e-mail and live chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 “There’s a Canvas support team but they don’t seem to be particularly well trained because I get a lot of e-mails from faculty saying ‘I go to Canvas support and they don’t know the answer,’ ” Weineck said. “Once you get high enough up in the Canvas support team you will eventually get to someone who knows the answer and who will be very helpful. But knowing faculty, a lot of faculty will get to this in August.” 

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