University tool makes some course evaluation data available

Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 5:35pm

Just in time for backpacking and class registration, a new tool that displays course data from the past five to six years — Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0, or ART 2.0 — has become available to students.

The course evaluation data does not include individual professor evaluations or courses that had fewer than 30 evaluation responses, and students do not have access to grade distributions or average GPAs for the courses taken.

The tool, which went live Tuesday, is designed to give students an interactive platform to answer questions about course evaluations, enrollment during each semester, the major and year distributions of students who took the class and the pre-enrollment, co-enrollment and post-enrollment of other classes. It was developed by the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, a program within the Digital Education and Innovation department, which was established last year to increase academic software on campus. 

Information graduate student Christanna Hemingway is one of the student fellows who worked on ART 2.0. Hemingway said they originally planned to make more information available to the public, but decided to limit available information due to faculty concerns. Over the past semester, faculty governance has pushed back against a Central Student Government plan to make course evaluation data readily available.

“Originally, we had some ideas of showing more information, and then in consulting with faculty colleagues we decided to step back,” Evrard said. “There were some trade-offs that we needed to make in order to get here. What we want to see from the student engagement is to see if you are actually using this tool, what you’d like to see and then engage in conversation with the Provost’s office and the deans across the University to align ourselves with respect to what should students know.”

The tool uses selected data from the course evaluations taken every year. For all the schools besides Ross School of Business, answers to questions on the desire to take the course, whether the student learned a great deal from the course and whether the course had a large workload are available. For the Business School, the questions shown are whether the student had a strong interest to take the class and whether the material is helpful.

It is currently linked to on both Wolverine Access and the LSA Course Guide last week.

Physics Prof. Gus Evrard, the ART 2.0 team lead, said the project is part of a number of initiatives, such as releasing course evaluations and data about classes, to expand access for students.

“We wanted to take a look at the behavior, various aspects of behavior, of students, and we set up a small group of people to oversee the project,” Evrard said.

University Provost Martha Pollack said the tool allows students to interact with one another in a new way.

“It’s a tool where you can go in and you can find out obvious sort of things like what are the prerequisites, and you can find out things like, of the students who took this course, how many took this other course, or how many took this course at the same time,” Pollack said. “It helps you think about courses in context. It’s a way of sharing student knowledge and what students have experienced themselves with one another.”

Rachel Niemer, a director of the project, said the tool allows students to find information about courses more efficiently and in a consolidated space.

“One of the advantages that we see is by having data, students don’t have to go online and search,” Niemer said. “They can, in fact, use what other students have said in course evaluations and what the data are common trajectories through curriculars.”

Niemer said she thinks the tool is particularly helpful for students who are exploring majors and subject levels because they can see what kinds of students are taking particular courses.

Chris Teplovs, the lead developer at DIG, said the data included is from more than 9,000 undergraduate courses, going back six years for every course. Teplovs said the team worked on providing the most aggregate, objective source for students.

“It’s attractive; it’s not distilled down from other sources and it’s not based on requests to access the information,” he said.

Because the tool uses internal data collected by the University, Niemer said the tool is more useful than other online sources.

“By looking at the data and the graphs available, they can get a real sense of what actually happens as opposed to what they hear from their RA or their roommate or from friends said happens,” she said. “With more data comes more educated decision making.”

The project is a second version of an interface created in 2006, ART, that was only available to faculty and showed enrollment, pairs of courses taken simultaneously and grade distributions, among other data sets. The team for ART 2.0 said they wanted to take that experience, present it in a user-friendly way and deliver it to students.

Though the program is now available to all undergraduate students, Evrard said the interface is likely to change over time with feedback from users.

“This is very much a beta product that may change as we move into Fall 2016,” he said. “We have room to grow so one of the things that we’d like to do is get feedback from students on utility of the services we’re providing. If there are negative aspects that you feel are important for us to know, then we simply want to hear from you.”