Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 18, 2010

Faculty still await fall term OMET results

Faculty members will need to wait just a little longer to find out what their students thought of their fall term teaching.

The shift to new student opinion of teaching questionnaires is delaying results as Pitt’s Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching performs quality control checks on the new Scantron program.

“We’re double- and triple-checking to make sure everything is correct,” said Nancy Reilly, OMET director. “I know how important these results are. I would never want anything to go out that’s not 100 percent right.” A memo went out to deans and department chairs this week to inform them that OMET aims to have the fall term evaluations available early in March, Reilly said.

While accuracy is critical, receiving timely results is important as well. Student evaluations can be a factor in a teacher’s continued employment or promotion. In addition, many faculty count on students’ feedback to fine-tune the content of their courses.

Communication department chair Barbara A. Warnick agreed that the OMET teaching evaluations provide important information.

Her department must make personnel appointments for enough part- time teachers, TAs, lecturers and tenure-stream faculty to fill 70 courses each spring and fall.

While some faculty automatically will be reappointed, for others, the evaluation information is crucial in order to be sure the teacher is performing up to standards, she said.

Anna D. Halechko, assistant chair in Pitt’s psychology department, said, “There are a number of reasons why faculty like to get their OMET results as quickly as possible. First, most faculty try to apply OMET results to improve future courses. This is particularly important if the faculty member is teaching a course for the first time in the fall and then repeats that course in the spring.

“If the results of the fall evaluation are to have any impact, they should be made available as early as possible in the spring term,” she said.

“Another very important reason for early results is that most departments seriously consider course evaluations in deciding recommendations for promotion, tenure and contract extensions,” said Halechko.

“For example, a non-tenure stream instructor is usually hired on a one-year contract. A contract renewal cannot be finalized until OMET results are received from the fall term. Until those results come in, that instructor does not know whether he or she will have a job at Pitt next year. Obviously, this is very difficult for the individual as well as for the department since we cannot finalize teaching plans for next fall.”

English department chair John A. Twyning said the delay in receiving the results has not had a huge impact, but he noted that people like to get the information.

He agreed that those most affected by the delay are faculty on one-year teaching contracts who are applying to teach in the coming academic year. Although the evaluations are required as part of the application, “We may need to have them submit the applications without the most recent OMETs, then send them in when they’re received,” he said.

Other factors impact the selection process, he noted. In addition to the student feedback, the department asks to see documents of a candidate’s teaching over a range of time, including syllabi, sample assignments and grade sheets.

The late evaluations wouldn’t be a make-or-break factor, he said.

Twyning pointed out that candidates who have taught previously in the department likely aren’t panicking because prior years’ information already is in their departmental teaching files. “But you do want the up-to-date information,” he said.

One area in English that could be impacted is an annual meeting in which teachers of the junior and senior seminars for literature majors address the program. That gathering typically takes place toward the end of spring term and OMET feedback is important to their discussions, he said.

OMET’s Reilly said the new evaluation software appears to be working properly. “Everything’s lining up,” she said, explaining that a rapid shift from OMET’s old VAX computer system didn’t allow time for any side-by-side testing, prompting the painstaking manual cross-checking in the OMET office.

The new program provides quantitative results plus scanned images of the students’ handwritten responses to the open-ended comment section. Previously, the comment pages themselves were attached to the quantitative summary of students’ fill-in-the-block ratings.

The new program ultimately will allow results to be returned more quickly, Reilly said. Survey results always are held until after final grades are set, but in future terms, faculty should be able to have the results within a week after grades are due, Reilly said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply