Campus Commentary

Do Our Surveys Serve Us?


Student surveys are common indicators of the end of a semester at almost every college, and the University of Cincinnati is no different. I found myself curious as to why we take the surveys, and what was done with them once we had taken them. For some universities information was easy to come by, and others difficult. UC was in the latter category. I was pleased, and concerned with my answers, and hopefully this can lead to a discussion about what student input should look like at UC.

Fin search of my answers I spent my time searching google, the UC website, and the UC library database, looking for UC specific information on how the survey system works. Spoiler alert, there’s nothing. After repeated disappointments I figured the next best source is a professor, being a UCBA student made that as easy. I talked to my professor Brian Hunter. Mr. Hunter is a Spanish professor and has chosen to make his post semester surveys optional.

At UC SPTLS, or Student Perceptions of Teaching and Learning Survey, as Mr. Hunter informed me, are tools for professors to get feedback from students about their experience in the classroom. They consist of the usual question, followed by a scale of 1-5. From what Mr. Hunter told me the surveys don’t go beyond the professor you are reviewing, and the responsibility for acting based on reviews falls to the professor as well. Mr. Hunter said he chooses to have the SPTLS optional, because he gets more genuine answers. Mr. hunter also said the number of students who respond fluctuates, but in general the number of respondents is less than fifty percent.

I expected to find the surveys to be tied to teacher evaluation. However, Mr. Hunter explained teacher evaluation as a multiple step process starting from the point of hiring. I still want to know how the university decided on the end-of-semester SPTLS as the format for student responses. I asked myself those questions, because end of semester SPTLS don’t offer a chance for a professor to salvage a student’s experience. Mr. Hunter said the surveys were useful because they give a shy student an opportunity to share issues they may have been having. During my research I found universities like Vanderbilt University use mid-semester and end-of-semester surveys to give the students an opportunity to give feedback, and the professors the time to use that feedback.

When I started this, I had concerns that this wasn’t the best option, and an article referred to me by another UCBA professor, research showed that students are not good at assessing their own learning, and they have bias towards female professors. Online professors thought to be women received about 80 percent of the points of the professors assumed to be male. Based on the research I can see why higher-level staff wouldn’t bother with survey review.  Beyond statistics there are some stories from students I’ve talked to that were troubling. Take the following story as an example of behavior that is worth reviewing.

The first story was about a statistic professor. The student told me the professor “was just really bad at explaining problems.” I immediately thought, its calculus, not the easiest subject. Perhaps the student was just having trouble and wanted to blame the teacher. The real problem I heard was the professor “would get mad, and yell at students for not understanding.” The real kicker for me was, the professor would “sing Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift, and mime killing themselves when people would walk in late.” This behavior most likely wasn’t just exhibited in the one class, was the student I interviewed the only one to ever say anything in a survey, or is there something more we can be doing to improve communication between students and faculty?

End-of-semester combined with mid-semester surveys may be the choice, or perhaps an anonymous online suggestion box accessible all semester. Regardless I’d like to see UC take steps to be more transparent.

About Jack Dohrenwend

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