April 18, 2014

UW moving to online course evaluations to save paper, money

News and Information

The University of Washington is expanding online course evaluations to reduce its use of paper. The online evaluations are expected to save the university tens of thousands of dollars every year in paper costs while giving faculty and administrators more direct access to evaluation results.

The UW’s Information School and Law School, and UW Tacoma, have been using online evaluations for two years as part of a pilot project. Last quarter, more than 600 courses at the Seattle campus were evaluated online. The Office of Educational Assessment is advertising the service to the entire campus this quarter.

The current total cost of paper evaluations at UW Seattle is about $150,000 annually.

“About half of that is associated with paper, both the purchase of the paper itself and the envelopes, plus the staff time to create the evaluation packets and scan the paper forms,” explained Nana Lowell, director of the Office of Educational Assessment. “By eliminating paper we’ll save about $75,000 a year, and about a quarter million sheets won’t have to be recycled.”

The Office of Educational Assessment also provides course evaluation services to about 40 other colleges and universities. Those institutions will now have the opportunity to transition to online evaluations, expanding the environmental savings beyond the UW.

Course evaluations are used in three different ways. First and foremost, faculty use them to help improve their teaching, since students can share aspects of the course that are going well and other areas that need to be improved. Second, departments use them to evaluate faculty for merit, promotion and tenure decisions. Third, students can check out the course evaluation catalog to help determine if they want to sign up for a certain class.

Lowell said the most important thing about moving to online evaluations is to maintain the quality and number of responses received. With paper evaluations, students fill out the forms in class and then turn them in.

With online evaluations, students receive an email with a link, which can be easily ignored. Lowell said each department needs to develop deliberate strategies to encourage students to respond. For example, the Law School has students fill out the online evaluations in class, just like they would with paper forms. The evaluations also work on mobile devices, so students who don’t bring a laptop to class can still fill out the online evaluation during class time using their smartphones.

Until now, instructors have been able to evaluate one course of up to 100 students each quarter without charge using paper, and assistant professors can evaluate two courses on paper. Evaluations beyond that are charged to the department at a cost of 19 cents per student plus $1.20 per course. To encourage faculty to go paperless, beginning in the fall, online evaluations will be free but all paper evaluations will cost 19 cents per student.

The development of the database application for online course evaluations is endorsed by UW’s Paper Reduction Committee. Primary funding is provided by Undergraduate Academic Affairs, with additional funding from the offices of the Provost and Planning & Budgeting.

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