CAMPUS: Mercury takes over

McGill/News by

The course evaluation process will move one step closer to transparency and accessibility this fall. After first being explored in the fall of 2003 and pilot tested in the winter of 2004, McGill Online Evaluations will be launched campus-wide in December under the name “Mercury.”

According to an April 2006 analysis report, the goals of MOLE were to facilitate data collection, enhance communication of results to instructors and administrators, reduce costs and paper use, improve the quality of students’ comments and allow all students registered in a course to evaluate that course.Instead of filling out paper evaluations with written comments and Scantron ratings, Mercury will be the forum in which students can share their opinions about classes and teachers. The proponents of the Mercury system hope that online evaluations will improve the course evaluation process by allowing students more time to reflect on the course and professor in private. Instructors will also be able to see comments more quickly, and departments will no longer have to buy expensive scanner forms.

A side benefit to the online system is that it can be offered in multiple languages, although the MOLE administrators need to be given a translated copy.

More important to some students is the end result of the evaluations, which are often made difficult to access. While teachers can access online evaluations immediately after final grades have been submitted, it is not clear if students will have access to these resources when choosing classes or professors-although this is one of the goals of the MOLE project.

MOLE has already made evaluation information more visually understandable by using colourful bar graphs. Previously, the results for instructors who consented to the release of the information were displayed in confusing columns of numbers. Instructors’ employment privacy is one of the administrative issues preventing some evaluations from being published.But even though the online evaluations will be accessible 24-hours a day for an average two-week length of time near the end of classes, it remains unclear whether students will complete them in larger numbers.

“Most people rush through [class evaluations] in class to leave early,” said Genevieve Jenkins, U2 Physiology. “I doubt they’ll take the trouble online unless they loved a class or hated it.”

According to the MOLE group’s research, however, there is “No evidence of a negative bias” in the evaluations. Further, their pilot project found increases in the number of respondents, the percentage of students who commented as well as the length of those comments.

The report also addresses the two major concerns with the move to a strictly online system: lower response rates and that “the respondents may not form a representative sample of the students as only those with extreme views will take the time to respond.”

Last year’s trial found that the response rate toonline evaluations was lower in some classes but that there was no systematic bias between paper and online course evaluations. MOLE is hoping to address the falling response rate this fall with increased advertising as well as reminders, which will be activated when students log into Minerva.