Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
THERE'S MORE ONLINE Reason behind CTools
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By STEPHANIE STEINBERG
AND LARA ZADE
Daily News Editors
In the midst of 'finishing proj-
ects and cramming for exams,
thousands of University students
became frustrated last Monday
night when CTools and the online
teaching evaluations shut down.
Though the technological error
occurred over a week ago, Uni-
versity officials still do not have
answers as to why or how it hap-
At last Monday's meeting of the
Senate Advisory Committee on
University Affairs, John King, vice
provost for academic information,
said the University is investigating
swhat went wrong.
"There's a very major effortgoing
on right now to find out exactly
what caused this and that will obvi-
ously get fixed," King said.
King said he believes that the
CTools website was extremely
overloaded at the time of the crash,
and that the website couldn't han-
dle all of the functional tools that
were added to CTools over time.
"We have added so much func-
tionality, at the request of the units,
to both CTools and these other
things, that we got beyond our own
confidence in "our ability to test the
system at run time," he said.
King added that another factor
may have been the faculty's ability
to manage the website.
"Giving faculty members con-
trol of the teaching evaluation
apparatus - even relatively mod-
erate control - is part of the prob-
lem that can cloud the issues," he
King indicated that in the future,
the University might have to imple-
ment new rules concerning.the fac-
ulty's power to monitor the site.
"Probably what we're going to
have to have is an agreed upon set
of protocols that people follow and
then an agreed upon behavior of
the system that stays with those
protocols," he said.
Professors received completed
teaching evaluations submitted
by students before 9 p.m. Apr. 20,
when the system crashed. Univer-
sity officials decided not to reopen
the teaching evaluations after
CTools was working again the next
King said some students would
have received their grades by then,
which could have influenced their
responses in the survey.
"From a policy perspective, the
issue of not collecting the evalua-
tions after grades have been posted
has been discussed, and it's under-
stood that's not anything anyone
intends to do," King said.
Despite the screw-up, officials
are confident the online evaluation
system first implemented last fall is
just as efficient as the paper evalua-
Kingsaid the number of complet-
ed online evaluations in fall 2008
was similar to the amount filled out
on paper in fall 2007.
"In the fall term, evaluation
results were remarkably similar
to the fall of last year in terms of
the number of data collected and
in terms of what the evaluations
showed," he said.
Nonetheless, many students
were aggravated that they couldn't
evaluate the teaching styles and
performances of their professors
and GSIs this semester.
,LSA freshman Sara Schafrann
didn't have time to fill out the ques-
tionnaires before the system shut
down. She said she felt frustrated
about the situation because she
wanted to give positive feedback to
her favorite professors.
"I loved my sociology professor,
and I wish I could have given him a
good comment," she said.
LSA sophomore Kristen Krause
said she didn't get the chance to
express her disapproval of the way
her GSIs taught her classes.
"I was kind of upset we didn't
get to do them because I felt like I
couldn't give my constructive criti-
cism to some of my GSIs," she said.
Expressing her distrust of tech-
nology, Krause said she would have
rather filled out paper evaluations
like' the ones the University has
provided in the past.
The technological error not only
prevented students from critiquing
professors, but it negatively impact-
ed some students' grades.
LSA freshman Brittany Matson
lost four points in Biology 172 that
were given for filling out the evalu-
ations. She finished the survey
before the system crashed on Mon-
day but never e-mailed her GSI the
webpage confirming it.
"It will affect my grade because
I'm borderline between a C and B,"
Intermittent Astronomy Lectur-
er Philip Hughes said he was also
going to give students four extra
points on their final as an incentive
to complete the online evaluation.
"People see four free points,
and they can't resist getting them,"
Hughes said. "Now I'm going to
give four points to everybody - I
don't see any other alternative."
Professors interested in student
feedback devised their own ways
to obtain course evaluations. Some
handed out surveys after students
finished their finals while others
posted evaluations on separate
websites like those used by the
Department of Mathematics.
Communication III GSI Julia
Lippman created her own online
evaluation website and sentthe link
to her students in an e-mail.
"I got an additional third of my
students who responded because of
my replacement mechanism," she
Lippman said evaluations are
crucial for improving her teaching
style and can determine a future
employer's hiring decision.
"When I go on the job market,
one of the things I have to show
employers is my teaching evalua-
tions," she said.
Lippman added thatshe now has
fewer evaluations to show employ-
ers because of the system failure.
She also said that she has seen a
definite decrease since last year in
the amount of students who fill out
"Last semester I had approxi-
mately just over half of my stu-
dents respond, whereas in previous
semesters the response rate was
close to 100 percent," she said.
Although the online system
shutting down has caused prob-
lems for students and faculty
alike, Hughes said he doubts the
University will switch back to
"I can't imagine that the Uni-
versity would want to go back
to paper now," he said. "They've
adopted the online approach, and
they would invest any resource to
keep that up."
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